‘Targeting’ sedation: the lived experience of the intensive care nurse


  • Kirsty Everingham PhD, MSc, BN,

    Research Coordinator, Corresponding author
    1. Critical Care, Royal infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
    • Correspondence: Kirsty Everingham, Research Coordinator, Room GU309, The Chancellor's Building, 49 Little France Crescent, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4SB, UK. Telephone: +44 (0) 131 242 6396.

      E-mail: kirsty.everingham@bartshealth.nhs.uk

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  • Tonks Fawcett MSc, BSc, RN,

    Senior Lecturer
    1. Nursing Studies, The School of Health in Social Science, The Medical School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
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  • Tim Walsh BSc, MBChB, FRCP

    Professor of Critical Care
    1. Critical Care, Royal infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
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Aims and objectives

To discuss the findings from a phenomenological study that provides insights into the intensive care nurses' ‘world’ following changes in the sedation management of patients in an intensive care unit.


Intensive care sedation practices have undergone significant changes. Patients, where possible, are now managed on lighter levels of sedation, often achieved through the performance of sedation holds (SHs). The performance of SHs is normally carried out by the bedside nurse but compliance is reported to be poor. There has been little exploration of the nurses' experiences of these changes and the implications of SHs and subsequent wakefulness on their delivery of care.


Following ethical approval, 16 intensive care nurses, experienced and inexperienced, from within a general intensive care unit.


A Heideggerian phenomenological approach was used. Data collection consisted of interviews guided by an aide memoir and a framework adapted from Van Manen informed the analysis.


The findings reveal new insights into the world of the intensive care nurse in the light of the changes to sedation management. They demonstrate that there have been unforeseen outcomes from well-intentioned initiatives to improve the quality of patients' care. There were implications from the changes introduced for the nurses care delivery. The main themes that emerged were ‘working priorities’ and ‘unintended consequences’, in turn revealing embedded tensions between evidence-based targets and holistic care.


Intensive care nurses find that the current approach to the changes in sedation management can threaten their professional obligation and personal desire to provide holistic care. The ‘targeted’ approach by healthcare organisations is perceived to militate against the patient-centred care they want to deliver.

Relevance to clinical practice

Sedation management is complex and needs further consideration particularly the potential constraints ‘target-led’ care has on nursing practice.