Sharing and collaborating between South Island ICUs

News
18 Sep 2020
Richard Whitticase, ICU Charge Nurse Manager, South Canterbury DHB.

Since the South Island Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Project Group was formed two years ago, communication between ICUs has increased dramatically, resulting in more collaboration and collegiality across the region.

“The group has achieved our hopes and expectations in spades,” says Richard Whitticase, ICU Charge Nurse Manager, South Canterbury DHB. “We get to exchange ideas, policies, procedures – and you know your problems are the same as everyone else’s. In the past, others might have thought we weren’t a proper ICU because we’re small. Now, everyone realises our work is the same as other ICUs, and we have great mutual respect and confidence.”

The South Island ICU Project Group is responsible for sustainably planning and improving intensive care services, across the five DHBs. Chaired by Nelson Marlborough DHB CMO Nick Baker, the group meets monthly and consists of each ICU clinical director and charge nurse manager, and a selection of duty nurse managers, operations managers, planning and funding, as well as allied health scientific and technical representatives.

Richard is based at Timaru Hospital, where he originally trained as a Registered General and Obstetric Nurse, from 1984-87. After a stint in Australia working in a high dependency environment, he realised he enjoyed the unpredictability and adrenalin of a more intensive nursing style.

In 1991, during a holiday in Timaru, he was approached about a maternity leave cover role in ICU – and he’s been there ever since. Richard became the Charge Nurse Manager of the Level 2 Intensive Care Unit in 2000. He relishes the environment. “You never know who is going to come through the door, you must have a broad practical skillset and then you can stretch it.”

He learnt the trade alongside experienced nursing colleagues, especially during seven years of night shift. “It’s about the nuances of assessment and clinical judgment, and when something just doesn’t feel right, it’s important to be able to communicate succinctly, coherently and persuasively to nursing and medical colleagues – who also may be on call off-site.”

Some of the project group’s achievements include the development of an automated dashboard to display what’s happening in each ICU environment, as well as daily and weekly status reports. “We look at the reports every day, and contribute our data, so that we know what’s happening and where the pressures are in the system. If we can provide support, we will and do.”

The sharing of information between ICUs is invaluable, he says. “We really appreciate the short communications chain about ICU-related issues and our collective ability to get things done, such as the COVID-19 response, when we were having meetings three times a week. We had access to information early and could make sure our organisation responded, and we got our voice heard at local, regional and national levels. And the ability to share information shapes policy here in South Canterbury. We get inspiration about models of care, changes that will make our own system better.”

Being able to air common issues in a forum with colleagues who can take those concerns further is another benefit, he says. “We have never had this before. It gives us the confidence to know we’re heading in the right direction, we’re not out on limb, we’re part of a system.  It will be good when we can all get back together in the same room – virtual meetings are great, but it’s also good to meet in person.”

Richard believes South Canterbury plays an important part in the South Island health system. “The work we do takes pressure off Canterbury. Our first option is to keep patients in South Canterbury if it’s clinically safe, because it’s best for the person and their family. Things change in ICU all the time, and the work we’re all doing together is the best way of collaborating.”