Anaesthesia explained

Published: 01/03/2021

The anaesthetist

Anaesthetists are doctors who have had specialist training in anaesthesia. Your anaesthetist is responsible for:

  • assessing whether you are fit enough to have the anaesthetic for your operation
  • talking to you about which type of anaesthetic might be best and getting your permission
    (consent) for it
  •  agreeing a plan with you for your anaesthetic and organising pain control afterwards
  • looking after you in the operating theatre and closely monitoring your condition throughout
    the operation
  • looking after you immediately after the operation in the recovery room or in an intensive
    care unit.

Grades of anaesthetist 

Following full training as a doctor, it takes at least seven years to train to be a consultant anaesthetist. A consultant anaesthetist has completed the full anaesthetic training.

In the UK it is a requirement that a named senior anaesthetist is involved in the care of every patient who will be undergoing surgery. This does not mean that a consultant will give every anaesthetic. You can ask to talk to a consultant or senior anaesthetist if you want to.

Specialty and Associate Specialist (SAS) anaesthetists

Other experienced anaesthetists work as specialty doctors or associate specialists. These SAS doctors have at least two years of specialist training in anaesthesia, but many have years of experience working as an anaesthetist. Depending on their skills and experience these doctors may work alone, but can ask for advice or assistance if required.

You may also encounter trust-grade doctors or clinical fellows, who often have less experience and are likely to be supported by a more senior doctor.

Anaesthetists in training

Although they are called trainees, anaesthetists in training are registered doctors who are carefully trained and assessed in each specialty area of anaesthesia. Their title refers to their year of training (ST7 being the most experienced people who are close to starting their consultant posts). All trainee anaesthetists will be appropriately supervised and a consultant is always available if they are needed. You can find out more about the different stages of anaesthetic training here.

The anaesthesia team

Anaesthetists are supported in their work by trained staff. Staff working in theatre all wear the similar scrub suits (cotton tops and trousers) of various colours. All staff should be wearing name badges showing their name and role.

Operating department practitioners (ODP)

These staff have completed a three-year degree course on patient safety and care of the patient. They then work in various roles to support the anaesthetist and the surgeon, and to provide care in the recovery room.

Anaesthesia Associates

Anaesthesia Associates are healthcare professionals who work as part of the anaesthetic team under the supervision of a consultant anaesthetist. They have had dedicated training in anaesthesia to safely administer anaesthetics.

You can find out more about Anaesthesia Associates here.

Theatre nurses

Theatre nurses have completed a full general nursing training and have chosen to specialise in theatre work. An extra six-month training course in anaesthetics allows them to work as an anaesthetic assistant.

Recovery-room staff

Staff in the recovery room may be nurses or ODPs. They will look after you immediately after you leave the operating theatre. They look after your breathing, pain relief and fluids, and monitor you closely until you are ready to return to the ward.

Medical students and other staff in training

There may be staff in training in the theatre. They can only take part in your care if they are carefully supervised and with your permission.