Objective: To assess the changes in cost of intensive care in one unit after a 3 year period and to evaluate the relative costs of an integrated high dependency unit.
Design: Combined retrospective and prospective audit of all expenditure incurred in an intensive care/high dependency unit over two periods: April 1988-February 1989 and January-July 1991.
Setting: Combined 13-bedded intensive care/high dependency unit of a central London teaching hospital.
Results: The overall cost rose by 50%. Hidden costs such as infrastructure maintenance, capital assets, pathology and radiology services accounted for nearly a quarter of total expenditure. Pharmacy and supplies each accounted for some 10% of total expenditure whereas staff costs exceeded 50%. The cost of the intensive care section rose by 14% of 1149 pounds per patient day as increased bed occupancy offset increases in nurse: patient ratios and expenditure on consumables. However, the cost of the high dependency unit section rose by 87% to 437.83 pounds. This was due to a lower bed occupancy (through increased patient turnover), improved staffing ratios, and increased utilisation of equipment and supplies.
Conclusions: Intensive care is an increasingly expensive speciality, the costs for which are rising over and above the rate of general inflation. Staff costs are by far the largest single item of expenditure. Large reductions in spending on drugs and consumables are unlikely to provide considerable savings on the total budget. Hidden costs account for a high proportion of the budget and should be taken into account when evaluating cost. The significantly lower cost of high dependency care should encourage studies into its cost-effectiveness.