We assessed adequacy of ventilation in 20 critically ill patients with multiple organ failure using a Pneupac Ventipac portable ventilator and the effects on patients' haemodynamic stability. Baseline data were recorded over 15 min for a range of respiratory, haemodynamic and oxygen transport variables during ventilation with a standard intensive care ventilator (Engström Erica). Patients were then ventilated for 40 min using the portable ventilator. Finally, they were ventilated for a further 40 min using the standard intensive care ventilator. Heart rate, arterial and pulmonary artery pressures were recorded at 5-min intervals throughout the study period. Cardiac index and other haemodynamic data derived from a pulmonary artery catheter were recorded at 20-min intervals. Blood gas analysis was performed and oxygen transport data (oxygen delivery, oxygen consumption and physiological shunt) were calculated at the end of each of the three periods of ventilation. In general, no significant adverse effects of ventilation using the portable ventilator were observed for any of the variables studied. Arterial PO(2) increased significantly during ventilation with the portable ventilator, reflecting the use of a higher inspired oxygen fraction during this part of the study. Oxygen consumption decreased significantly in one patient during ventilation by the portable ventilator although none of the other variables measured in this patient was altered. We conclude that ventilation of critically ill patients using the Pneupac Ventipac portable ventilator was safe, satisfactory and associated with minimal adverse effects on respiratory, haemodynamic and oxygen transport variables.