The Royal College of Anaesthetists will hold an extraordinary general meeting in October after a call from its members.1 A grassroots group of UK anaesthetists called Anaesthetists United have proposed six resolutions to be discussed and voted on at the meeting on 17 October, including the expansion in anaesthesia associates.
Anaesthesia associates, formerly known as physician assistants (anaesthesia), provide anaesthetic and perioperative care under the supervision of an anaesthetist and are currently unregulated. The role is due to be regulated by the General Medical Council as early as the second half of 2024.2
Anaesthesia associates are one of the roles identified for expansion by the 2023 NHS Long Term Workforce Plan,3 which set out ambitions for training places for the role to increase to 250 a year by 2028-29, with a further increase to 280 by 2031-32.
Anaesthetists United is calling on the Royal College of Anaesthetists to oppose this expansion. “We are calling for the college to stick its neck out, come out and actually oppose this enormous expansion,” the group’s website says.4 “We are calling for anaesthesia associates to be properly supervised,” it adds. “And we’re not prepared to see individual hospitals opt out of proper supervision just to save money. Patients need to be made aware when they are being anaesthetised by a non-doctor.”
Anaesthetists United, led by consultant anaesthetists Danny Wong and Richard Marks, used social media to gather the 149 signatures needed to call the extraordinary meeting. The college introduced a clause into its ordinances last year that allows members to requisition an extraordinary meeting by gathering the signatures of “not less than 0.75% of voting members in good standing.”5
In a statement the college said it was aware of the concerns expressed by many of its members with regard to anaesthesia associates and described the extraordinary meeting as an “opportunity to continue to discuss all views openly and honestly.” The statement added that a small number of anaesthesia associates had been part of the anaesthesia workforce for 20 years and, under the supervision of anaesthetic doctors, they provided a valuable service.
The statement said, “Our involvement in this area has always been, and continues to be, to set standards, provide guidance, and ensure quality and safety of patient care.
“The recruitment of anaesthesia associates is not within our remit, and we have not proposed an expansion in numbers. We feel that more research is needed to provide as much information as possible on the effect of a significant increase in numbers of [anaesthesia associates] not only on patient care but also on training doctors in anaesthesia.”