Outcomes of paediatric patients ventilated in a high-care area outside an intensive care unit

Background. Limited availability of paediatric intensive care beds in the public sector is a major challenge in South Africa. It often results in patients being ventilated in a high-care area (HCA) outside an intensive care setting. The outcomes of paediatric patients ventilated outside a paediatric intensive care unit (ICU) are not well documented.

Objectives. To describe characteristics and outcomes of patients ventilated in a paediatric HCA.

Methods. A retrospective chart review of children (0 – 16 years) requiring mechanical ventilation in the HCA at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Johannesburg, between 1 February and 31 October 2015 was performed.

Results. A total of 214 patients required mechanical ventilation during the study period. Fifty-four percent were male and 91.1% were HIV-negative. The most common diagnoses were acute lower respiratory tract infections (59.3% of the post-neonatal group, 28.8% of the neonatal group) and sepsis (6.8% of the post-neonatal group, 28.8% of the neonatal group). The ultimate rate of acceptance to an ICU was 69.0%. Only 41.6% of cases referred to an ICU were initially accepted, with limited bed availability being the main reason for refusal. Patients with respiratory illnesses were more likely and those with neurological illness less likely to be accepted to an ICU. Patients with low-risk diagnoses were more likely to be accepted than those with very high-risk diagnoses. The overall mortality rate was 32.2%, with 52.2% of these deaths occurring in the HCA. Patients aged 1 – 5 years had the highest mortality rate (48.0%). Lower respiratory tract infections (36.8%) and sepsis (20.6%) were the main causes of death. The mortality rate of suitable ICU candidates in the HCA was higher than that in an ICU (33.3% v. 24.3%). The standardised mortality ratio (SMR), as predicted by the Paediatric Index of Mortality 3 score, for all patients who died in the HCA was 3.3, while the SMR for patients who died in an ICU was 1.3. The odds ratio for mortality of suitable candidates ventilated in the HCA v. patients who were ventilated in an ICU was 1.80 (95% confidence interval 1.39 – 6.03).

Conclusions. Although a reasonable number of paediatric patients ventilated in an HCA survive, survival is lower than in those ventilated in an ICU. However, offering life-supporting therapies in an HCA may offer benefit where ICU care is unavailable. Emphasis needs to be placed on improving access to ICU care as well as optimising the use of available resources.