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Developing an intervention to help people return to work after critical illness

Developing and testing the feasibility of a vocational rehabilitation intervention to improve return to work, quality of life and mood for people who survive a critical illness 

What we are doing?

This PhD study has 3 stages: 

Stage 1   

  • A literature review will develop an understanding of the unmet need for vocational rehabilitation after critical illness  
  • A UK survey will explore work status following critical illness to understand the problems faced preventing return to work  
  • Interviews will identify barriers and facilitators to return to work in depth 

Stage 2 

A vocational rehabilitation intervention be developed in workshops with key stakeholders using the Person Based Approach 

Stage 3 

A feasibility study will measure if the intervention can be delivered as planned, and participant interviews will determine acceptability of the intervention. 

Why we are doing it?

A critical illness requires admission to intensive care, commonly due to a severe infection or after major surgery. Survival rates are increasing due to improved care currently, 80% survive. However, research reports only 55-60% of people who survive have returned to work 6 months after their illness. Survivors may experience long term physical, psychosocial and cognitive problems that prevent them from working. It is unknown how many survivors exit the workforce due to health reasons and how many could return to work sooner with timely rehabilitation. ​Unemployment after a critical illness leads to depression and reduces quality of life. There is also emotional and financial strain for the survivor and their family. 

What the benefits will be and to whom?

This PhD study will: 

  • Establish the unmet need of critical illness survivors and their families and the effects unemployment has on the patient, their family and society in the UK 
  • Develop understanding of the nature of high-quality vocational rehabilitation and improved planning and design of services for this population 
  • Elicit information on the feasibility and costs of delivering vocational rehabilitation in the NHS  

The longer-term impact (beyond the PhD Study) will: 

  • Adopt and implement the vocational rehabilitation intervention across the NHS  
  • Contribute to earlier return to work, improvements in mental health and improved quality of life for survivors of critical illness and their families 

  • Reduce financial burden on families and the UK economy

Who we are working with?

This research is in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals, NHS Trust. The study has a public and patient involvement group who will advise on all aspects of the research and be involved in sharing the findings. 


Eleanor Douglas, Clinical Lead for Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy in Critical Care, Nottingham University Hospitals, NHS Trust,