Chapter 15: Guidelines for the Provision of Anaesthesia Services for Vascular Procedures 2024

Published: 25/01/2024


It is nearly two decades since it was widely reported that the outcome from abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) surgery was significantly worse in the UK than in comparable countries.1 The 2005 NCEPOD report Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: A service in need of surgery2 subsequently led to a national Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Quality Improvement Programme (AAAQIP) being introduced to encourage standards of best practice and reduce national mortality.3 This project has been central in successfully driving improvements to care and survival in AAA repair in the UK.

A key aspect of AAAQIP was the centralisation of care due to the recognition that there was a relationship between volume and outcome. This is not solely due to surgical expertise but to the wider multidisciplinary team (MDT), crucially including anaesthetists. Vascular anaesthesia is increasingly recognized as a subspecialty with a unique range of skills in perioperative care.

The National Vascular Registry continues to publish patient outcome and process data for each main index vascular procedure.4 It recognises the contribution of the anaesthesia team to good outcomes. It collects and publishes process data on preoperative assessment, optimisation, conduct of anaesthesia and a number of surrogate markers of the quality of anaesthetic care.

In subsequent years, the role of the anaesthetist has become more central in vascular care. Recent guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence has resulted in a shift towards open repair of AAA from endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) in the elective setting, and EVAR in the emergency setting.5 The increasing use of complex endovascular stent grafts in patients has added a new level of complexity to decision making for patients with aortic pathology. Vascular anaesthetists need to acquire additional knowledge and skills in areas such as preoperative assessment and medical optimisation and a full understanding of the surgical options available and the specific risks of each approach (e.g. spinal cord injury in complex EVAR and the need for spinal cord protection). In gaining this expertise, anaesthetists now have a central role in the vascular MDT in planning and delivering care.

Many challenges still exist in the care of vascular patients. Data from the UK National Vascular Registry, the 2014 NCEPOD report and the recent nationwide Getting It Right First Time report revealed poor outcomes in patients undergoing major lower-limb amputation and considerable delays in treatment.6,7,8 A best practice guideline has been published on major lower-limb amputation, and was followed by a best practice clinical care pathway.9 These recommendations have implications for the practical delivery of vascular anaesthesia care in a specialty with a particularly high burden of urgent and out-of-hours operating.

1. Staffing requirements


In all hospitals undertaking major vascular anaesthesia a vascular anaesthetist should be appointed clinical lead (see Glossary) to manage service delivery. This should be recognised in their job plan, and they should be involved in multidisciplinary service planning and governance within the unit.

C Strong

Anaesthesia for all patients undergoing major vascular surgery should be provided by or directly supervised by an anaesthetist suitably qualified, trained and experienced in vascular anaesthesia. This will usually be a consultant vascular anaesthetist, who has overall responsibility for the patient’s care. Under certain circumstances, this could be an SAS doctor who is practising regularly in this subspecialist area under the provisions of the RCoA’s guidance on the supervision of SAS doctors.10

GPP Strong

It is recognised that staff involved in providing care for out-of-hours vascular emergencies may differ from those involved in routine daytime care. It is essential that all staff who might potentially be involved in perioperative care of the emergency vascular surgical patient are trained and competent in the aspects of care for which they are responsible. There should be provision for such staff to attend and assist in the daytime care of routine major vascular cases to update their skills and knowledge, with appropriate recognition in their respective job plans.

GPP Strong

Where possible, urgent and emergency vascular cases should be performed on daytime theatre lists by appropriately trained staff.7 There is evidence that the outcome after lower-limb amputation is better when surgery is undertaken within normal working hours.11

C Strong

Anaesthetists undertaking major vascular surgical cases should be supported by adequately trained assistants who work regularly in the vascular theatres.

GPP Strong

Departments might occasionally need to consider allocating two consultants to work together to provide direct clinical care to patients undergoing major vascular procedures. Examples might include the exploration of infected aortic stent grafts or open thoraco-abdominal aneurysm repair.

GPP Strong

The preoperative assessment and decisions regarding the risks of vascular surgery are often complex and time consuming, and require detailed discussions with the patient and other colleagues. Patients undergoing major vascular surgery should ideally be assessed by a vascular anaesthetist. Regular sessional time and programmed activities should be made available for anaesthetists to fulfil these requirements.12

C Strong

In units designated as complex arterial centres, additional programmed time should be allocated to vascular anaesthetists delivering this service to allow them to engage with the MDT and to provide support to allied specialties.

GPP Strong

Where endovascular procedures are being performed in the radiology department, perioperative anaesthetic support should be identical to that provided for patients undergoing vascular surgery in the operating theatre suite.

GPP Strong

Staff with skills including expertise in spinal cord protection, monitoring of anticoagulation, visceral perfusion and one-lung ventilation should be available in specialist units.

GPP Strong

2. Equipment, services and facilities

The following equipment, support services and facilities are required for the efficient and safe functioning of the vascular anaesthesia service.



Major vascular surgery often requires the use of large amounts of ancillary equipment, which should be available in vascular theatres and operated by appropriately trained staff. Equipment should include radiological equipment, rapid fluid infusers, cell salvage machines and extracorporeal circulation devices where appropriate.

GPP Strong

Advanced monitoring equipment should be available in the vascular theatre to monitor the function of the cardiovascular system. This may include monitoring of invasive pressures, cardiac ischaemia and cardiac output.

GPP Strong

Equipment and facilities should be available to manage major haemorrhage. This may include intraoperative cell salvage and other blood conservation techniques.13,14,15

C Strong

Transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE) may be useful in the identification of thoracic aortic pathology, successful deployment of thoracic stent grafts and detection of early complications. When required, TOE should be performed by certified practitioners with expertise in its use and interpretation.

GPP Strong

Units undertaking vascular surgery in which spinal cord or cerebral ischaemia is a significant risk factor should consider having the appropriate equipment for intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring. Examples include monitoring of evoked potentials, cerebral perfusion and function, cerebrospinal fluid pressure and drainage.

GPP Strong

Equipment to perform one-lung ventilation should be available when thoracoscopic or thoraco-abdominal procedures are performed.

GPP Strong

The impact of perioperative hypothermia may be more pronounced in vascular patients – equipment should be available to monitor and maintain normothermia.16,17

B Strong

Equipment should be immediately available for rapid blood gas analysis, near-patient tests of coagulation (e.g. thromboelastography and activated clotting time) and the measurement of haemoglobin and blood glucose.18,19

B Strong

All relevant staff should be appropriately trained in the use of the above equipment.

GPP Strong



Vascular theatres should be of adequate size to facilitate the use of this equipment safely, with additional storage capacity.

GPP Strong

Facilities to provide postoperative level 1 and 2 care should be available 24/7.

GPP Strong

In centres performing arterial surgery, adequate level 2 and 3 critical care facilities should be available onsite to facilitate both routine and emergency workloads. This should include the ability to provide renal replacement therapy.2

C Strong

Where anaesthesia is provided for endovascular procedures the anaesthetic facilities and equipment should be equivalent to those of a modern operating theatre environment. This includes post-anaesthesia recovery facilities with adequate levels of trained recovery room staff.20

C Strong

Endovascular procedures involve significant potential exposure of the patient and staff to ionising radiation. Recommendations for facilities and training outlined in chapter 7 should be followed.21 Suitable lead aprons and lead barriers, eyewear and dose meters should be available for the anaesthetic team in such an environment.

C Strong

3. Areas of special requirement

Preoperative assessment and preparation

The preoperative evaluation of patients presenting for vascular surgery presents particular challenges because of the incidence of coexisting disease, in particular cardiovascular, respiratory, renal disease, and diabetes.22,23,24 

The specific aims of preoperative vascular assessment are:

•    to perform a risk assessment
•    to allow referral and optimisation of coexisting medical conditions
•    to permit consideration and institution of prevention measures, including:
-       lifestyle evaluation and interventions to support modification of risk factors (cessation of smoking, weight management, nutrition and regular activity/exercise)
-       ensuring availability of access to appropriate support services (pharmacy and dietetics)
•    to enable clinical decision making with the wider vascular team, including:
-       planning and preparation
-       reviewing the risks and benefits of surgery
-       establishing the best surgical options for an individual
-       allowing for the timing of surgery and required facilities to be planned
•    to facilitate shared decision making with the patient.

General recommendations for preoperative assessment are described in Chapter 2: Guidelines for the Provision of Anaesthesia Services for the Perioperative Care of Elective and Urgent Care Patient.25


Risk stratification based on clinical history may help to guide management.26 However, determination of a patient’s functional capacity may be difficult if exercise tolerance is limited by peripheral vascular insufficiency, respiratory or other disease.27 Clinical guidelines should be developed for further investigation, referral, optimisation and management according to local facilities and expertise.4

B Strong

To guide clinical decision making, cardiopulmonary exercise testing should be considered for patients undergoing aortic surgery to establish functional capacity and the presence and severity of cardiopulmonary disease. Test results may also be helpful in guiding collaborative decision making as to the most appropriate treatment option for patients.4,26

B Moderate

Elderly patients

Increasing numbers of elderly patients are undergoing vascular surgery. There is evidence that a comprehensive geriatric assessment, targeting syndromes such as frailty and sarcopenia, has a positive impact in terms of shared decision making and clinical outcomes for those patients who undergo vascular surgery. This is a growing area of clinical practice, which is directly benefiting the vascular surgical population.

4. Training and education


Anaesthetists with an appropriate level of training should attend patients undergoing major elective vascular surgery.

C Moderate

To maintain the necessary knowledge and skills, vascular anaesthetists should have a regular commitment to the specialty. Adequate time must be made for them to participate in relevant MDT meetings and continuing professional development (CPD) activities. This should include the facility and resources to visit other centres of excellence to exchange ideas and develop new skills where appropriate.28

C Moderate

Vascular anaesthetists should have the appropriate skills and knowledge regarding invasive cardiovascular monitoring, cardioactive or vasoactive drugs, strategies for perioperative organ protection (renal, myocardial and cerebral), the management of major haemorrhage, and the maintenance of normothermia.29

C Moderate

Some anaesthetists may have responsibility for management of major vascular surgical cases on an occasional or out-of-hours basis. Departments of anaesthesia should ensure that opportunities are made available for these anaesthetists to maintain appropriate skills and knowledge. Notwithstanding this provision, all anaesthetists must recognise and work within the limits of their professional competence.

C Moderate

A local training module should be provided for anaesthetists in training according to their grade, supervised by a nominated educational lead. This programme should develop understanding of the widespread nature of cardiovascular disease, optimisation and risk stratification, as well as perioperative management. The RCoA revised training curriculum (2021) provides explicit detail of the requirements.30 

C Moderate

Where cardiopulmonary exercise testing is used, it is recommended that appropriate training, accreditation and infrastructure is in place to facilitate this testing.31,32 

C Moderate

5. Organisation and administration


Departments should ensure that vascular anaesthetists and support staff are available to provide a year-round service. This should include prospective cover for sickness and planned leave.21

C Aspirational

Where organisational infrastructure is lacking to safely undertake major or complex vascular cases (e.g. where no critical care bed or vascular anaesthetist is available), clinical staff should not be pressured into proceeding with surgery.

GPP Strong

Under circumstances where prolonged or complex vascular procedures are scheduled on a regular basis, appropriate agreement, planning, funding and resources should be in place.

GPP Strong

Programmed time should be available in job plans to support appropriate attendance at multidisciplinary team meetings and preoperative assessment clinics.

GPP Strong

Participation in morbidity and mortality and governance meetings, and participation in audit and development of local protocols, should be supported in the job plans.

GPP Strong

The following guidelines should be held and be easily accessible:

•    management of lumbar drains
•    postoperative management of blood pressure following a carotid endarterectomy
•    emergency ruptured AAA.27,33 

C Strong

6. Financial considerations

Part of the methodology used in this chapter in making recommendations is a consideration of the financial impact for each of the recommendations. Very few of the literature sources from which these recommendations have been drawn have included financial analysis.

The vast majority of the recommendations are not new recommendations; they are rather a synthesis of already existing recommendations. The current compliance rates with many of the recommendations are unknown, so it is not possible to calculate the financial impact of the recommendations in this chapter being widely accepted into future practice. It is impossible to make an overall assessment of the financial impact of these recommendations with the currently available information.

7. Research, audit and quality improvement


All departments undertaking major vascular surgical cases should organise regular multidisciplinary audit meetings with vascular surgeons and radiologists. These meetings should occur in addition to departmental clinical governance meetings. Regular audit or evaluation of the following aspects of vascular patient care may include:

  • survival of and complications in patients undergoing surgery, including review of unexpected outcomes
  • survival in patients treated non-surgically (e.g. abdominal aortic aneurysm), including cause of death, where appropriate
  • compliance with recommended national guidance timeframes (e.g. Vascular Services Quality Improvement Programme), including reasons for delay or cancellations of major elective cases
  • techniques and quality of perioperative pain management for elective and emergency cases
  • use of intraoperative blood conservation strategies and impact on blood component usage
  • impact of the MDT process on clinical decision-making in patient management
  • patient-reported outcome and experience measures with the vascular service.
GPP Strong

It is recommended that individual vascular anaesthetists register with, and contribute to, the UK national audit database (National Vascular Registry), which incorporates a section dedicated to ‘anaesthesia’ as developed between the Vascular Anaesthesia Society of Great Britain and Ireland and partnership organisations.34 The systems needed to provide the necessary data should be available and supported.

GPP Strong

Departments should facilitate the collection of data required for anaesthetists undertaking major vascular cases to keep a personal logbook.

GPP Moderate

Where new quality improvement initiatives are being considered for patients undergoing vascular procedures, an appropriately conducted impact evaluation is recommended before commencement. This evaluation should involve all local stakeholders likely to be affected, ideally including patient representatives. An appropriately conducted pilot evaluation, with clearly defined outcome measures, may be appropriate prior to consideration of full-scale implementation.

GPP Moderate

8. Implementation support

The ACSA scheme run by the RCoA aims to provide support for departments of anaesthesia to implement the recommendations contained in the GPAS chapters. The scheme provides a set of standards, and asks departments of anaesthesia to benchmark themselves against these using a self-assessment form available on the RCoA website. Every standard in ACSA is based on recommendation(s) contained in GPAS. The ACSA standards are reviewed annually and republished approximately four months after GPAS review and republication to ensure that they reflect current GPAS recommendations. ACSA standards include links to the relevant GPAS recommendations so that departments can refer to them while working through their gap analyses.

Departments of anaesthesia can subscribe to the ACSA process on payment of an appropriate fee. Once subscribed, they are provided with a ‘College guide’ (a member of the RCoA working group that oversees the process) or an experienced reviewer to assist them with identifying actions required to meet the standards. Departments must demonstrate adherence to all ‘priority one’ standards listed in the standards document to receive accreditation from the RCoA. This is confirmed during a visit to the department by a group of four ACSA reviewers (two clinical reviewers, a lay reviewer and an administrator), who submit a report back to the ACSA committee.

The ACSA committee has committed to building a ‘good practice library’, which will be used to collect and share documentation such as policies and checklists, as well as case studies of how departments have overcome barriers to implementation of the standards or have implemented the standards in innovative ways.

One of the outcomes of the ACSA process is to test the standards (and by doing so to test the GPAS recommendations) to ensure that they can be implemented by departments of anaesthesia and to consider any difficulties that may result from implementation. The ACSA committee has committed to measuring and reporting feedback of this type from departments engaging in the scheme back to the CDGs updating the guidance via the GPAS technical team.

9. Patient information


It is important to engage in a shared decision-making process with patients to discuss the risks and benefits of scheduled or elective major vascular surgery. Details should be explained to the patient in an appropriate setting and in language they can understand. Patient information materials should be made available to support the patient’s decision with regard to choices on anaesthesia and analgesia.

GPP Moderate

These discussions should occur well in advance of planned surgery to allow reflection and informed decision making. All such discussions should be documented, although it is still necessary to give relevant explanations at the time of the procedure.

GPP Moderate

Options for anaesthesia and all aspects of perioperative care, including risks and benefits, should be discussed with the patient by the responsible anaesthetist.35 

GPP Strong

Areas for future development

Following the systematic review of the evidence, the following areas are recommended for further research:

  • comprehensive geriatric assessment for vascular procedures
  • implementation of prehabilitation programmes.


Clinical lead – SAS doctors undertaking lead roles should be autonomously practising doctors who have competence, experience and communication skills in the specialist area equivalent to consultant colleagues. They should usually have experience in teaching and education relevant to the role, and they should participate in quality improvement and CPD activities. Individuals should be fully supported by their clinical director and should be provided with adequate time and resources to allow them to undertake the lead role effectively.

Immediately – unless otherwise defined, ‘immediately’ means within five minutes.

Vascular anaesthetist – an anaesthetist with regular sessional commitment to major arterial surgery who has developed expertise in preoperative cardiovascular risk assessment, has specific knowledge of the principles underlying the main index vascular procedures and who maintains regular CPD in the field of vascular anaesthesia.


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