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Protocolized weaning from mechanical ventilation: ICU physicians’ views


  • Bronagh Blackwood BSc MSc RGN RNT,

  • Jenifer Wilson-Barnett BSc MSc PhD SRN FRCN FKCL DBE,

  • John Trinder MBBCh MD FFARCSI

Bronagh Blackwood, Room 204, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast, 50 Elmwood Avenue, Belfast BT9 6AZ, UK.


Background.  The use of protocols during weaning from mechanical ventilation is uncommon in the UK, despite research pointing to their potential benefits. This may be because the research evidence is considered not to apply in different settings. Intensive care unit consultant physicians are the major decision-makers in weaning in the UK and any attempt to introduce protocolized weaning will require consideration of their views.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report a study exploring intensive care physicians’ views on (i) weaning from mechanical ventilation, (ii) the utility of weaning protocols and (iii) nurses’ roles in the weaning process. A specific goal was to identify potential aids and barriers to developing weaning protocols and their introduction into clinical practice.

Methods.  Qualitative interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 10 consultant physicians in two intensive care units in Northern Ireland and subjected to content analysis.

Findings.  The primary themes identified were (i) information required for weaning decisions and clinical judgement, (ii) professional boundaries, (iii) protocol issues and (iv) timing of weaning. Three types of information were deemed to be required for weaning decisions – empirical objective, empirical subjective and abstract – and interviewees considered that it would be challenging to incorporate all into a protocol. They were divided on whether protocols were useful when nursing experience was limited. Some groups of patients were thought more suitable than others for protocolized weaning.

Conclusions.  Although local physicians were supportive in theory, introduction of protocolized weaning is likely to be difficult because of the breadth of information required for successful decision-making. Consultant views in this study were not consistent with American findings that physicians’ caution may unnecessarily prolong weaning.