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QJM. 2010 Apr;103(4):243-51. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcp194. Epub 2010 Feb 4.

A national survey of the management of delirium in UK intensive care units.

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  • 1Respiratory Medicine Research Programme, Centre for Infection and Immunity, Queen's University, Belfast BT12 6BN, UK.



Delirium is an acute organ dysfunction common amongst patients treated in intensive care units. The associated morbidity and mortality are known to be substantial. Previous surveys have described which screening tools are used to diagnose delirium and which medications are used to treat delirium, but these data are not available for the United Kingdom.


This survey aimed to describe the UK management of delirium by consultant intensivists. Additionally, knowledge and attitudes towards management of delirium were sought. The results will inform future research in this area.


A national postal survey of members of the UK Intensive Care Society was performed. A concise two page questionnaire survey was sent, with a second round of surveys sent to non-respondents after 6 weeks. The questionnaire was in tick-box format.


Six hundred and eighty-one replies were received from 1308 questionnaires sent, giving a response rate of 52%. Twenty-five percent of respondents routinely screen for delirium, but of these only 55% use a screening tool validated for use in intensive care. The majority (80%) of those using a validated instrument used the Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit. Hyperactive delirium is treated pharmacologically by 95%; hypoactive delirium is treated pharmacologically by 25%, with haloperidol the most common agent used in both. Over 80% of respondents agreed that delirium prolongs mechanical ventilation and hospital stay and requires active treatment.


This UK survey demonstrates screening for delirium is sporadic. Pharmacological treatment is usually with haloperidol in spite of the limited evidence to support this practice. Hypoactive delirium is infrequently treated pharmacologically.

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