Anaesthesia explained

Published: 21/10/2019

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
  • giving the anaesthetic and organising pain control afterwards, and
  • looking after you immediately after the operation in the recovery room or in an intensive care unit.

Grades of anaesthetist 

Senior anaesthetists

Senior anaesthetists are no longer in training and usually work on their own or supervise a trainee.

Consultant anaesthetist

A consultant has completed all the training requirements in anaesthesia to allow them to be on the GMC specialist register. They work without any senior supervision but must all continue education in anaesthesia each year. They usually specialise in a particular area of anaesthesia. Some may lead teams in different areas of the hospital such as Intensive care and pain medicine.

SAS doctor

This group of anaesthetists have different levels of experience and may be called either Staff Grade, Fellow, Associate Specialist, Specialty Doctor. In some trusts they may be called a different title.

SAS doctors have at least two years specialist training in anaesthesia but usually far longer. 5% have completed all the training and are on the specialist register. Most also have years of experience working as an anaesthetist.

For various reasons they have all made a choice not to complete all the higher specialty areas of training and research in order to become a consultant. Depending on their skills and experience these doctors may work alone but can ask for advice or assistance if required.

Anaesthetists in training 

As the specialist training is seven years long, senior anaesthetists in training have a substantial amount of experience. All anaesthetists in training will be appropriately supervised and a consultant is always available if they are needed. 

The team 

Anaesthetists are supported in their work by trained staff. Staff working in theatre usually wear the same colour scrub suits – although the colour varies between hospitals. All staff should be wearing name badges which say what their role is. 

Operating department practitioners (ODP) 

These staff have done a two-year training course to learn to help the anaesthetist and the surgeon and to provide care in the recovery room. 

Theatre nurses 

Theatre nurses have completed full general-nursing training. They 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 

These staff may be nurses or ODPs.

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 carefully supervised and with your permission. 

Anaesthesia Associates (AAs)

These staff are trained to look after you while you are anaesthetised. An anaesthetist is present at the beginning and the end of the anaesthetic. AAs are not doctors but they have the specialist training needed. They work within strict procedures and they will call an anaesthetist immediately if needed. More information is available here.