Anaesthetists Shortage Predicted To Increase Leaving Patients 'At Risk'

The Shortage Could Lead To Operation Delay And Threatens Patient Safety

13.06.2016

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Expert clinical negligence lawyers at national law firm Irwin Mitchell raise concerns over patient’s safety after doctor’s leaders have warned that the NHS faces a critical shortage of anaesthetists that could force operations to be delayed.

New research carried out by The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) shows that by 2033, every hospital trust will have 10-20 fewer consultant anaesthetists than they will need to meet rising patient demand. It estimates that by that date, the total will reach only 8,000, while the NHS has agreed that its total should expand to 11,800 – a shortfall of 3,800.

Anaesthetists are vital in preparing and monitoring patients for surgery and can deliver pain relief and resuscitation. They are involved in the treatment of two-thirds of hospital inpatients.

The college’s president, Dr Liam Brennan, said: “Anaesthetists possess a unique and non-transferable skill set that is essential to maintaining core hospital services, so the potential impact of a reduced anaesthetic workforce would have serious implications for patient safety across the whole NHS. We already have fewer than we need and the shortages are worrying.”

The RCoA’s latest census of the UK’s anaesthesia workforce also found that hospitals already rely on locum anaesthetists – 74% of which are hired from medical employment agencies to ensure full rotas.

Furthermore, a report last year by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence said that demand for anaesthetic services would grow by 25% by 2033 because of the ageing and growing population. This growth would require 300 anaesthetists a year to reach this pace, but RCoA’s findings show that between 2007 and 2015, only 130 more a year were added.

Rachelle Mahapatra, expert clinical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said:

Expert Opinion
“One of the major factors in anaesthetics is that time is of the essence if you need to anaesthetise a patient in an emergency, so it is therefore vital to have sufficient trained people to cover the NHS.

“The shortage of trained staff is a big problem for the NHS already with staff highly outstretched and reliance on locum, and to think this workforce will shrink in years to come is truly worrying. They play such a core part in patient recovery during surgery so this shortage puts a huge threat on patient safety.

“I have dealt with patient cases where they have suffered anaphylactic reactions to the anaesthetic and the antitheist needs to be trained to administer the correct medication and intubate.

“If a patient suffers a collapse with breathing difficulties, then time is of the essence in ensuring that they do not suffer hypoxic brain damage from the lack of oxygen. Anaesthetists are critical within hospitals and not just for routine surgery. The reduction in numbers may increase the risk to patients and compromise patient safety.”


Rachelle Mahapatra, Partner