About anaesthesia and perioperative care

About anaesthesia and perioperative care

What is anaesthesia?

The word anaesthesia means ‘loss of sensation’. It can involve a simple local anaesthetic injection which numbs a small part of the body, such as a finger or around a tooth.

It can also involve using powerful drugs which cause unconsciousness. These drugs also affect the function of the heart, the lungs and the circulation.

As a result, general anaesthesia is only given under the close supervision of an anaesthetist, who is trained to consider the best way to give you an effective anaesthetic but also to keep you safe and well.

The drugs used in anaesthesia work by blocking the signals that pass along your nerves to your brain. When the drugs wear off, you start to feel normal sensation again.

Anaesthesia: enabling modern surgery

The modern specialty of anaesthesia has come a long way since its earliest days. Early anaesthetics were given by dripping a liquid anaesthetic agent onto a piece of gauze held over a patient’s face. The effects were unpredictable and quite unsafe. Monitoring consisted in feeling the patient’s pulse and watching for the rise and fall of the chest.

We now have a much more detailed understanding of the physiology, bio-chemistry and physics of anaesthetic agents. Modern anaesthetic drugs can be tailored to the needs of every patient to achieve the effect required, according to the operation, and the general health of the patient. For a typical anaesthetic in the UK, the anaesthetist will use at least eight different electronic monitors which give information about a variety of body functions.

Many modern surgical techniques would not be possible without the anaesthetic drugs, the techniques and the equipment that anaesthetists use today.   Most important of all is the high level of training given to all anaesthetists in the UK. Patient safety is the key to everything that anaesthetists do, and this allows us to bring patients safely through the most challenging operations.

The perioperative care approach

In recent years the specialty of anaesthesia has focused on evolving the role of the anaesthetist into that of the ‘perioperative physician’. 

Perioperative medicine is a medical specialty which is becoming an increasingly important part of the delivery of healthcare in the secondary care setting and anaesthetic services. It refers to the practice of patient-centred, multidisciplinary and integrated medical care from contemplation of surgery until full recovery.

In essence this means different healthcare professionals working together and with patients to optimise medical conditions and fitness ahead of surgery to achieve the best outcomes.  Fitter patients experience fewer complications after surgery and recover quicker.

Our Fitter Better Sooner resources will provide you with the information you need to become fitter and better prepared for your operation.

The RCoA has produced an animation to explain perioperative care as a pathway to better surgical care.  

CPOC logo

The Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) 

Hosted by the College, the Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) is a cross-specialty centre dedicated to the promotion, advancement and development of perioperative care.