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The role and staffing of physiotherapy in critical care: a scoping review

Paul Twose, Vicky Newey, Una Jones


Paul TwosePhysiotherapy Department, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, CF14 4XW, U.K,,

  • Abstract
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Physiotherapy services are provided to critical care units across the U.K. and internationally. U.K. guidance documents highlight potential physiotherapy roles and recommended staffing levels. However, this guidance is based on limited evidence and this scoping review was needed to inform workforce planning and future recommendations.


The objectives of this scoping review were to:

• Map the volume and nature of evidence in relation to physiotherapy in critical care.

• Describe the role of physiotherapy within critical care.

• Describe recommended physiotherapy staffing ratios in critical care.


Available literature between January 2009–December 2021 was searched utilising relevant databases. Studies focusing on the role of physiotherapy or physiotherapy staffing levels were included. Data extraction and appraisal was performed using relevant Joanna Briggs Institute proformas.


A total of 1121 titles were screened, with 22 full text papers reviewed. Studies were commonly based in South Africa and United States of America and were survey based (n = 16, 72%). Literature available to define the role of physiotherapy in critical care was limited, which was further complicated by variation of practice across countries. Variability was observed for existing physiotherapy staffing levels ranging from 1:4 to 1:50 critical care beds.


Based on our findings, there is limited evidence to define the role of physiotherapy within critical care, with widespread variation in existing staffing levels. Further research is required to define the role of physiotherapy in critical care and identify appropriate staffing levels in the U.K., including a focus on patient outcomes.

2022 Journal (Vol. 54 Issue 3)
Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care. Volume 54. Issue 3. 2022. Article on: p92-118
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