• family;
  • family nursing;
  • family-centred care;
  • ICU nurses;
  • ICU nursing;
  • nurse–family partnership

Aims and objectives

To compare how intensive care nurses in the UK and Australia (AU) perceive families in intensive care units (ICUs).


International healthcare research and practice is often based on an underlying assumption of a person- or family-centred ideology. While nurses in ICUs acknowledge the importance of patients' families, a true integration of families as units of care is often not realised.


Data from ICU nurses from two international studies: (1) a constructivist grounded theory study in the UK and (2) a quasi-experimental non-equivalent clinical study in AU. Data were collected in tertiary adult ICUs in the UK and AU. Nurse-to-patient ratio for high-acuity patients was 1:1 in both units.


Twenty ICU nurses in five focus groups (UK study) and 197 surveys were sent out to ICU nurses in AU (response rate 26%).


Evidence from both studies makes visible the contribution of family care in adult ICUs. Nurses remaining in control and initiating family member care involvement are less likely to perceive families as a burden. The AU study indicated that when nurses partner with families to deliver care, there was a minimal effect on their workload. The nurses concluded that inviting family members to be a part of the patient's care should be usual practice in ICUs.


Nurses should promote, facilitate and invite the integration of families in care in today's healthcare system. This is mandatory as families are the caring resource for these patients during an often prolonged recovery trajectory.

Relevance to clinical practice

Families are more likely to be successfully integrated into a more active involvement with ICU patients when they are not perceived as a burden. Inviting and supporting family members is not necessarily time-consuming and starts the journey of supporting ICU survivors' recovery journey.