ICU Exit Block Project

A whole of hospital approach to optimising intensive care capacity - ensuring we deliver the right care, for the right patient, in the right place


Intensive care services are a precious resource that should be provided in a safe, efficient and consistent way. ICU exit block has been identified as a significant problem impacting the care of critically ill patients in NSW.

Intensive Care NSW is exploring strategies to reduce ICU exit block and improve patient flow.

Patient experience

Listen to a Craig describe his experience in the ICU.

Read a transcript of Craig's experience

Guiding Principles to Optimise Intensive Care capacity

In 2018, the ACI partnered with four NSW ICUs to test and implement identified solutions to reduce intensive care exit block. This partnership, together with an evidence review, informed the development of the Guiding Principles to Optimise Intensive Care Capacity to assist in the reduction of ICU exit block and improve facility patient flow.

These principles, which incorporate best practice, align with the Whole of Health program and with the Ministry of Health Patient Flow Systems Framework. They include nine key elements to ensure patients have access to the right care in the right place.

It is recommended that staff work towards achieving the nine guiding principles to reduce ICU exit block and improve patient flow across the facility, improving the experience for staff, patients and their families.

Read the Guiding Principles to Optimise Intensive Care Capacity

Please contact for the associated alignment tool and implementation plan.

Evidence Review

An evidence review was done to inform the ICNSW Exit Block Project. It showed that ICU exit block is associated with:

  • poorer patient outcomes
  • reduced ICU capacity to admit critically ill patients, with an impact on whole of hospital patient flow
  • poorer patient journey and experience
  • poorer staff experience.
  • increased costs.

Read the Evidence Review

Project design

The ICU Exit Block Project involves an initial pilot research study, followed by a state project delivered in two phases implemented across NSW ICUs:

  • Pilot research: March 2018 – December 2019
  • Phase 1: February 2019 – January 2020
  • Phase 2: November 2019 – October 2020

Pilot research

The pilot research project phase involved Gosford, Liverpool, Nepean and Wyong Hospitals, with each pilot site establishing local project teams to design and implement strategies to suit local issues affecting exit block.

Local ICU specific solutions were designed and implemented, and are now being monitored at the four pilot sites. Sites are progressing the implemention of whole of hospital strategies to improve patient flow processes and optimise intensive care capacity. Site-based strategies will be evaluated and the applicability for state use will be determined.

State Project Phase 1

Phase 1 of the state project commenced in February 2019 and involves 10 participating sites:

  • Bankstown
  • Blacktown
  • Campbelltown
  • Concord
  • Dubbo
  • John Hunter
  • Lismore
  • St George
  • Tamworth and
  • Wagga Wagga.

The ACI, in partnership with the Ministry of Health ‘Whole of Health’ team, are supporting local project teams to design and implement strategies to suit local issues effecting exit block.

To determine issues causing exit block, the teams collected and evaluated information from various sources, including staff surveys and interviews, patient interviews and patient outcome data.

Sites are implementing one ICU specific and one whole of hospital solution with an aim to reduce exit block, improve patient flow and enhance the experience for patients, carers, families and staff.

State Project Phase 2

Phase 2 of the state project commences in November 2019 and involves up to seven additional sites.


The following resources are available for your use:


Intensive Care NSW will evaluate the success of the project based on several measures, including:

  • the reduction of ICU exit block
  • the reduction of after-hours discharge from the ICU
  • the effect on other hospital patient flow performance indicators such as ETP
  • patient, carer and family experience
  • staff experience.

If you would like more information about the project, please contact Leesa Hawkins, Clinical Project Officer, Intensive Care NSW, at