Objectives: In this study, parents were asked which aspects of their experience of having a child in intensive care had caused them the most distress and how they continued to be affected by these experiences.
Research methodology: Semi-structured interviews held with 32 mothers and 18 fathers of children admitted to a paediatric intensive care unit 8 months earlier, were audiotaped, transcribed and subjected to a thematic analysis.
Setting: The setting was an eight-bed paediatric intensive care unit in an inner city teaching hospital.
Results: Significant themes included the vividness of parents' memories of admission; the intensity of distress associated with times of transition and the lasting impact of their experience, in terms both of the ongoing need to protect their child and in relation to their priorities in life. Fathers reported different coping strategies, spent less time on the unit and were less likely than mothers to report fearing that their child would die.
Conclusions: Parents report significant and persisting distress. Further research is needed on how best to support them acutely and in the longer term.