Sustainability in critical care practice: a grounded theory study

Heather Baid, Clair Hebron, Julie Scholes, Janet Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Sustaining high-quality, critical care practice is challenging because of current limits to financial, environmental, and social resources. The National Health Service in England intends to be more sustainable, although there is minimal research into what sustainability means to people working in critical care, and a theoretical framework is lacking that explains the social processes influencing sustainability in critical care. Aims and objectives: This study aimed to explain the concept of sustainability from the perspective of practitioners caring for critically ill patients. Design: The qualitative research followed a Charmazian constructivist grounded theory approach, including concurrent data collection and interpretation through constant comparison analysis. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted online or by telephone with 11 health care professionals working in critical care in the South of England (8 nurses, 2 physiotherapists, and 1 technician). Schatzman's dimensional analysis and Straussian grounded theory techniques supplemented the data analysis. Results: Sustainability was defined as maintaining financial, environmental, and social resources throughout the micro, meso, and macro systems of critical care practice. The most pertinent social process enabling sustainability of critical care was satisficing (satisfaction of achieving a goal of quality care while sufficing within the limits of available resources). Increased satisficing enabled practitioners to fulfil their sense of normative, responsible, sustainable, and flourishing practice. Satisficing was bounded by the cognitive and environmental influences on decisions and an ethical imperative to ensure resources were used wisely through stewarding. Conclusions: An explanation of the concept of sustainability and significant social processes, in relation to critical care, are presented in a theoretical framework, with implications for how financial, environmental, and social resources for critical care practice can be maintained. Relevance to clinical practice: This theory offers clinicians, managers, educators, and researchers a definition of sustainability in critical care practice and provides a structured approach to addressing critical care sustainability issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-27
Number of pages8
JournalNursing In Critical Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Baid, H, Richardson, J, Scholes, J, Hebron, C. Sustainability in critical care practice: A grounded theory study. Nurs Crit Care. 2019; 1– 8., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


  • bounded rationality
  • critical care
  • satisficing
  • stewarding
  • sustainability


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