This article highlights certain practical and professional difficulties in providing end-of-life (EOL) care for patients in critical care units and explores discourses arising from guidelines for critical care services.
Background: A significant number of patients die in critical care after decisions to withdraw or withhold treatment. Guidelines for provision of critical care suggest, wherever possible, moving patients out of critical care at the EOL. This may not necessarily be conducive to a 'good death' for patients or their loved ones. There is a moral responsibility for both nurses and doctors to ensure that decision-making around EOL issues is sensitively implemented, that decisions about care includes families, patients when able, nurses and doctors, and that good EOL care is provided.
Methods: A critical discourse analysis (CDA) of four key UK critical care documents published since 1996.
Findings and recommendations: The key documents give little clear guidance about how to provide EOL care in critical care. Discourses include the power dynamic in critical care between professions, families and patients, and how this impacts on provision of EOL care. Difficulties encountered include dilemmas at discharge and paternalism in decision-making. The technological environment can act as a barrier to good EOL care, and critical care nurses are at risk of assuming the dominant medical model of care. Nurses, however, are in a prime position to ensure that decision-making is an inclusive process, patient needs are paramount, the practical aspects of withdrawal lead to a smooth transition in goals of care and that comfort measures are implemented.