Is paediatric endotracheal suctioning by nurses’ evidence based? An International Survey

Laura Rad, BERNIE CARTER, Martha Curley, Beverley Copnell, Lyvonne Tume*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Endotracheal suction (ETS) is essential in intubated patients to prevent tube occlusion and is one of the most common nursing interventions performed in intensive care.
Aim: To explore how paediatric endotracheal suctioning (ETS) practices reflect Evidence-based Practice (EBP) recommendations in Paediatric intensive care units (PICU) worldwide.
Study design and methods: A cross-sectional electronic survey linked to a real patient suction episode. Nurses completed the survey following a recent ETS episode. EBP was defined based on four of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) best evidence recommendations: pre-oxygenation before suction, use of a suction catheter no more than half the diameter of the tracheal tube, shallow depth of suction and the continuous suction applied upon withdrawal of the catheter. Participants included PICU nurses who performed ETS in children (0-17 years) excluding preterm neonates.
Results: Four hundred and forty-six complete surveys were received from 20 countries. Most nurses (80%, 367/446) reported that their unit had local guidelines for ETS. The most common reason for suctioning (44%) was audible/visible secretions. Over half of ETS episodes (57%) used closed suction. When exploring the individual components of suction, 63% (282/446) of nurses pre-oxygenated their patient prior to suction, 71% (319/446) suctioned no further than 0.5cm past end of the endotracheal tube, 59% (261/446) used a catheter no more than half the diameter of the endotracheal tube and 78% (348/446) used continuous negative pressure. 24% of nurses gave patients an additional bolus of sedative, analgesic and/or muscle-relaxant medication prior to suction; this decision was not related to the child’s history of instability with suction, as there was no significant difference in those who reported patients had a history of being unstable with suction (p=0.80). 26% (117/446) of nurses complied with all four EBP components in the reported suctioning episode.
Conclusions: Considerable variation in paediatric endotracheal suctioning practices exists internationally. While most nurses applied single components of evidence-based recommendations during ETT suctioning, just a quarter applied all four elements.
Relevance for clinical practice: Nurses’ need to consider and strive to apply EBP principles to common nursing interventions such as ETS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-379
Number of pages8
JournalNursing in Critical Care
Issue number5
Early online date2 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • child
  • neonate
  • suctioning
  • nursing practice
  • evidence-based practice


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