Summary of COVID-19 medicines guidance: Critical care

This page summarises and signposts to medicine related guidance we’re aware of from professional and government bodies relating to coronavirus and critical care.

This page has been put together rapidly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whilst we have tried to ensure that the information on this page is complete, please report a concern if you feel anything is omitted or inaccurate.

To see our professional guidance summaries for other clinical areas, click here

Advice in this area includes:

NHS England/ NHS ImprovementClinical guides for the management of critical care adults in hospital

Last updated 18 May 2020

  • Antibiotics should only be considered if there is suspected bacterial superinfection. Consider empirical influenza treatment with oseltamivir until respiratory PCR result is available and be aware that aspergillus co-infections have been reported in patients with COVID-19.
  • Where patients are already taking NSAIDs or ACEIs/ARBs for other conditions, continued treatment is supported by national and international bodies.
  • Routine corticosteroids are not recommended due to risk of prolonged viral shedding, bacterial superinfection and worse outcomes. However, when required for other indications they should not be withheld. Selected use of corticosteroids may be of benefit in hypotension resistant to high dose vasopressor therapy.
  • Medical management of renal failure, including diuretics to maintain urine output, may be useful to delay the requirement for renal replacement therapy.
  • Pay close attention to thromboprophylaxis including non-pharmacological (intermittent pneumatic compression stockings, TEDS).
  • Use of pharmacological agents to control delirium may be associated with an increased risk of mortality, especially where long Q-T interval can occur (beware use with other medicines which share this effect).
  • To support prioritisation of oxygen flow for the most severely ill adults, the target saturation levels for all in-patients has been reduced from 94-98% to 92-96%. A lower threshold of 90% may be acceptable in some circumstances.

NHS England/ NHS Improvement. Clinical guide for the management of surge during the Coronavirus pandemic: critical care rapid learning

Last updated 16 May 2020

  • Recommends consideration of mixing anaesthetic medications into a single syringe and using alternative administration routes (e.g. nasogastric delivery of electrolytes and intradermal insulin) to help meet increased demand and prevent shortages of pumps and syringe drivers.

NICE: COVID-19 rapid guideline: critical care in adults

Last updated 29 April 2020

  • Provides information on general principles of clinical decision making (including recommendations on appropriate use of the Clinical Frailty Scale) but no specific treatment recommendations.

NHS England/ NHS Improvement: Principles for increasing the nursing workforce in response to exceptional increased demand in adult critical care

Published 25 March 2020

  • Pharmacy staff may be able to support with the preparation and/or administration of medicines including intravenous medicines.
  • An aseptic dispensing unit may be able to bulk manufacture intravenous medicines such as noradrenaline

Royal College of Anaesthetists/ Association of anaesthetists:

Anaesthetic guidance relating to Tier 3 Alert of supplies of Atracurium, Cisatracurium and Rocuronium

Published 17 April 2020

Suggested actions in response to SDA Alert on atracuronium, cisatracurium and rocuronium include:

  • Consider using suxamethonium for neuromuscular blockade for rapid sequence induction provided there are no contraindications (NB caution in patients being intubated for transfer to ITU).
  • Consider the use of remifentanil as an adjunct during intubation if appropriate
  • Consider whether remifentanil could be used after tracheal intubation instead of a neuromuscular blocking drug.
  • Use commercially prefilled syringes of suxamethonium (if available) in areas in which the drug needs to be readily available but is not often used, eg obstetrics.

Royal College of Anaesthetists/ Association of anaesthetists:

Covid-19 potential anaesthetic drug list

Published 17 April 2020

Provides a brief overview of key facts for:

  • anaesthetics (thiopental, isoflurance, etomidate and hyperbaric 2% prilocaine)
  • neuromuscular blocking drugs (vecuronium, suxamethonium and pancuronium)
  • analgesics (clonidine, oxycodone, tramadol, pethidine, diclofenac, ketorolac and parecoxib)
  • phenylephrine

Royal College of Anaesthetists/ Association of anaesthetists

Guidance on potential changes to anaesthetic drug usage and administration during pandemic emergency pressures

Published 2 April 2020

Advice on potential mitigating actions to reduce impact of increase in demand for medicines used in anaesthesia and critical care. Recommendations include:

  • Work with pharmacy to develop safe ways to use all the contents of drug vials/ ampoules eg through sharing vials
  • Use inhalational anaesthesia for maintenance and restrict use of propofol for maintenance where possible
  • Provides list of alternative medicines/ techniques which could be considered if there are insufficient supplies of first line drugs for induction, neuromuscular blockade (RSI and routine), maintenance, analgesia (short and long-acting), non-opioid analgesia, sedation and transfer, vasopressor (bolus and infusion).

Royal College of Anaesthetists/ Association of anaesthetists

Guidance on adaptations to standard UK critical care medication prescribing and administration practices during pandemic emergency pressures

Published 2 April 2020

Advice on potential mitigating actions to reduce impact of increase in demand for medicines used in anaesthesia and critical care. Recommendations include:

  • Critical Care and Departments of Anaesthesia should work together to review and reallocate medicine stock supplies from areas where clinical demand has reduced
  • Prepare to adapt and guide local practice, where demand for certain products is high.
  • Consider combining sedatives (eg midazolam and morphine, propofol and alfentanil) following discussion with pharmacists.
  • Regularly review whether intravenous medicines can be changed to an alternative route, particularly enteral
  • Consider bolus dosing/administration of medicines where possible (eg magnesium, certain antibiotics).
  • Provides alternative drug options and clinical advice when first line drug supplies are insufficient to meet demand for sedation, neuromuscular blockade/ paralysis, vasopressors/ vasoactive drugs, non-opioid analgesia/ anti-pyretic, hypoglycaemics, antibiotics, stress ulcer prophylaxis.

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, Intensive Care Society, Association of Anaesthetists and Royal College of Anaesthetists: Joint COVID-19 Guidance Website

  • Provides links to a series of national resources but no specific recommendations