Are ICU beds different from other hospital beds? Specifications & Features

Posted on 16 April 2020 in Care Beds

ICU beds are used on intensive care units (ICUs), also known as critical care units (CCUs) or intensive therapy units (ITUs). These specialist units provide treatment and care for people who are seriously ill.

Each patient has one or two dedicated nurses and is under constant monitoring. Additional equipment, like ventilators or feeding tubes, are often used to support high-dependency care needs.

This specialist equipment is uncommon on other hospital wards. But beds are needed all throughout hospitals. So, how do ICU beds differ from standard hospital beds used on wards? This article looks at the features and specifications of ICU beds and compares them to other hospital beds.

ICU Bed Specifications

Technically, any bed used in an intensive care unit would be classed as an ICU bed. The name refers to where a bed is used within a hospital rather than a specific type of bed.

It’s the same as how a nurse might say someone ‘needs a cardiology bed’ to mean that they need to be transferred to a bed on the cardiology ward.

Department of Health and Social Care Guidelines

However, in their Critical Care Unit Planning & Design Notes, the Department of Health and Social Care does state that each bed space in an ICU should include:

“An electric bed capable of attaining chair and Trendelenberg positions, and fitted with a pressure-relieving mattress.”

So, these guidelines specify three requirements for ICU beds:

  • Must be electric — can be operated using a handset or control panel rather requiring medical staff to reposition the bed manually.
  • Must offer cardiac chair and Trendelenberg positioning functions — these positions facilitate respiration and circulation to aid bodily function. Read more about the Trendenlenberg position and why it’s used.
  • Can accommodate a pressure-relieving mattress — foam or replacement air mattresses are used for pressure relief. ICU beds must have appropriate dimensions to fit these mattresses.

4 Important Features for ICU Beds

By avoiding a long and detailed list of requirements for ICU beds, NHS Trusts can assess which beds best meet patient and staff needs when placing an order.

But there are several features and functions that prove important in a critical care setting. As such, most ICU beds will also include the following four features:

CPR Release

Most intensive care doctors and nurses would consider CPR release as an essential for ICU beds.

This function allows medical teams to flatten the bed platform at the push of a button or lever. In an emergency, this quickly creates the flat, hard surface needed to perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

IV poles with hooks

IV poles are used to securely hang fluids or medications that a patient needs to have administered via a drip. They typically have 2 or 4 hooks which can each support a fluid container.

Having an IV pole with multiple hooks is beneficial in ICUs where patients will often require multiple medications at once.

Choosing an ICU bed with an IV pole included makes it easier to move a patient in an emergency. Rather than having to wheel both the bed and the IV pole, medical staff only have to focus on moving one piece of equipment. This reduces the risk of injury or damage to the IV supply.

Removable head and footboards

Beds with removable head and footboards, which lock safely into place when in use, are often preferred in ICUs.

There are two key benefits to this design:

  • In an emergency scenario, removing the headboard allows medical staff to stand behind the patient. This frees up more space to work around the patient and provides easier access to the head to support breathing.
  • It’s easier to perform prone positioning. This procedure involves rotating a patient from lying face up to face down.


Intermittent prone positioning has been shown to improve external respiration and improve/prevent acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in critical care patients.

Nurse Controls

Electric hospital beds can have several different options for controls. Some have a patient handset or patient controls built into the siderail. Others have a nurse control handset or nursing controls built into the base of the footboard. Often, there will be a combination of controls available on a single bed.

For ICU beds, having built-in nurse controls offers several benefits:

  • Nursing controls can lock functions on any patient handsets. This will protect a vulnerable patient who cannot operate the bed themselves from accidents.
  • There are no trailing wires which can cause a trip hazard when staff are rushing to assist during an emergency.
  • There’s no risk of controls getting lost. ICUs are busy places. If staff need the bed to perform a function, they can activate it immediately without having to locate a handset.
  • Bed accessories, such as weighing scales, can be incorporated. This helps to monitor the weight of patients who are too unwell to sit or stand to be weighed.

ICU Beds vs. Hospital Ward Beds

All the features listed above have one key thing in common. They help medical staff to react and provide treatment quicker in an emergency.

This is crucial in an ICU and perhaps the key difference between ICU beds and other hospital beds.

Levels of Care

In the UK, all hospitals classify patients based on their care needs. Here are the different levels of care categories used by NHS Trusts:

Level 0 – Patients whose needs can be met through normal ward care.

Level 1 – Patients at risk of deterioration, or those recently transferred from level 2/3. Their needs can be met on an acute ward with some advice and support from the critical care team.

Level 2 – Patients who need more detailed observation or intervention. This includes those requiring support for a single failing organ system or post-operative care and those ‘stepping down’ from level 3 care.

Level 3 – Patients requiring advanced respiratory support or basic respiratory support plus support of two or more organ systems.

ICUs care for level 2 and level 3 patients. They are more likely to have complex needs or to deteriorate suddenly and require immediate intervention from medical staff.

Therefore, ICU beds need to be equipped to support this rapid response.

Most hospitals need versatile beds

We’ve looked at which features are particularly helpful for ICUs and why. But, in reality, most hospitals we work with at Innova want beds that are flexible and versatile enough to use in different areas of the hospital.

Over the years, we’ve supplied hundreds of beds with the features listed above to wards outside of ICUs. Emergencies can occur anywhere, so it helps to be prepared for rapid response.

Plus, if circumstances change and there is a sudden increase in critically ill patients then it helps to have additional beds available to facilitate critical care.

Supporting ICUs through the COVID-19 crisis

The current COVID-19 outbreak in the UK has caused just that. ICUs are facing increased demand and hospitals across the country require more beds suited to critical care. We’re pleased to say we have already delivered much-needed beds to NHS Trusts nationwide — including the NHS Nightingale Hospital North West in Manchester.

We still have large stocks of beds available for urgent delivery to NHS Trusts. Our expert team are on hand 24/7 to help procurement teams source beds which meet their hospital’s requirements and are equipped for ICU use.

Please do get in touch if we can help in any way — call 0345 0341450

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