Information for Patients about Anaesthesia

Click on the links below to access more information about what your anaesthetist does and what to expect when having an anaesthetic.

What do anaesthetists do?

Scope of practice

Anaesthetists are generally understood as the doctors who 'put you to sleep for surgery'. Certainly this is an important part of their work, but anaesthetists, as highly trained specialists, have a scope of practice which extends beyond anaesthesia for surgery to include pain management and intensive care. Anaesthetists have a medical background to deal with many emergency situations.


Anaesthetists are fully trained medical doctors and they form the largest specialty group of doctors in National Health Service hospitals. After qualifying doctors choose between many specialities for further training. Anaesthetists are doctors who have undergone postgraduate specialist training in anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and pain management.

The standards of training in the UK are high and exacting. The Royal College of Anaesthetists has duties to set the standards of the training programmes and, working with the Postgraduate Deans, it ensures the quality control of training in hospitals where the training takes place. For these new doctors training starts as an SHO (Senior House Officer) for at least two years. The trainee SHO achieves a basic level of competence, but is supervised in their work. The degree of supervision depends on their experience. After training as an SHO the trainee has to apply for, and be accepted on a specialist registrar training programme (SpR). This lasts for five years during which the trainee gains further skills and experience. Specialist registrars are also supervised by consultants.

Throughout their training anaesthetists are assessed in the workplace and they cannot progress to the next stage of training until they have satisfied their trainers and supervisors that they have reached the required and well defined standards. During the training programme, the trainee anaesthetist takes a two part examination called the Fellowship of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (FRCA). This exam is set and supervised by the Royal College of Anaesthetists. The standards are high and trainees cannot progress to the third and fifth years of training until they have passed the relevant part of the examination. Those doctors who pass can use the letters FRCA after their name.

Only trainees who have completed the whole 7-year training programme successfully, and been awarded a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), can have their names included in the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Specialist Register. Only specialists who have their names included on this Specialist Register can apply for consultant posts in the National Health Service in the UK.

Around your operation

'Putting you to sleep' for your operation is a simplification! Your anaesthetist puts you into a state of carefully controlled loss of consciousness so that you feel no pain and during this time your anaesthetist looks after all your bodily functions, carefully controlling them, monitoring them and adjusting them when necessary. Your anaesthetist looks after you when you cannot do this yourself. Anaesthetists have been called perioperative physicians because they provide care all around (peri) operations. The care that they provide for you during surgery can be divided into three parts.

Before your operation
Your anaesthetist will visit you in the ward, although occasionally this will happen in a pre-anaesthetic assessment clinic. If you are a day case patient it may not be until just before your operation. The anaesthetist who looks after you on the day of your operation is the one who is responsible for making the final decisions about your anaesthetic. He or she will need to understand about your general health, any medication that you are taking and any past health problems that you have had. Your anaesthetist will want to know whether you are a smoker, whether you have ever had any abnormal reactions to any drugs, if you have any allergies, and will also want to know about your teeth, whether you wear dentures or have caps or crowns, veneers or a plate. Your anaesthetist needs to know all these things so that he or she can assess the best way to look after you during this vital period. Your anaesthetist may examine your heart and lungs and may prescribe medication to calm you - premedication.

Is the name given to medication (drugs) given to you shortly before your operation. Though many anaesthetists no longer routinely prescribe such drugs, others still do. These drugs are given as tablets, injections or oral liquids (to children), and are intended to relax you and may send you to sleep. Do not worry if you do not have a pre-med. Sometimes, especially for day case anaesthesia, premeds are not given, as they may slow recovery. If in doubt, ask.

When your anaesthetist visits you at this point, it is the best time for you to ask any questions you may have.

During your operation
Your anaesthetist will be present at all times looking after you. The specialist training that an anaesthetist has undergone allows him or her to respond to any changes in your condition and ensure that you remain stable and pain free. All your bodily functions are constantly monitored during this time by your anaesthetist working closely with the surgeon who is performing your operation. The anaesthetist is vital in providing the right conditions for safe and successful surgery to be completed.

After your operation
Your anaesthetist continues to monitor your condition carefully. You will probably be transferred to a recovery ward where specially trained nurses, under the direction of anaesthetists, look after you. The anaesthetist and the recovery nurses ensure that all the anaesthetic effects are reversed and that your body functions are monitored as you return to full consciousness. He or she will ensure that you receive the right amount of oxygen, medication for pain and any intravenous fluids that you might require.

Pain medicine

Not only are anaesthetists the specialists who ensure that you are pain free during and after the time of surgery, but because of their specialist training some are also qualified to care for other sorts of pain. Anaesthetists are the specialists who control your pain during child birth with spinal and epidural anaesthesia and occasionally general anaesthesia. They are caring for you and your baby. For more information about this, see the section Anaesthesia and Having a Baby.

Anaesthetists also care for patients with acute, chronic and cancer pain. Pain Clinics can be found in most hospitals and the anaesthetists there have undergone specialist training in many techniques to tackle and relieve these different sorts of pain. For more on this, go to the British Pain Society website.

Intensive Care Medicine

As part of their training, anaesthetists undergo specialist training in intensive care medicine, and most of the doctors in intensive care medicine are anaesthetists. Their training means that they have the medical background to deal with many emergency situations and they form vital members of resuscitation teams. On intensive care units the medical background and training of anaesthetists allows them to monitor and care for your breathing, heart rate and function, blood pressure, temperature, fluid balance, nutrition, the working of your kidneys and liver and all other bodily functions which are often compromised in patients who are seriously ill and require intensive care. More on this topic can be found on the Intensive Care Society website (public information currently in preparation).

You are likely to come across anaesthetists in other areas too such as trauma medicine. Some procedures in the radiology department such as imaging, scanning and so on require the help of the anaesthetist to ensure that you are pain free and you may be given a general anaesthetic during these procedures. You will also find anaesthetists in endoscopy units, involved in electro-convulsive therapy, in dental units and so on.

About your anaesthetic

you and your anaesthetic   
  • Who will give my anaesthetic?
  • What type of anaesthetic are there?
  • What are my options for pain relief
  • What are the risks?
  • Do I have any special risks?
  • How will I feel afterwards?

 Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists





You may also like to watch the video "Having an anaesthetic" produced by Health and Care Innovations, a partnership with Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. 

Preparing for surgery – Fitter Better Sooner


Having an operation is a major event in someone’s life and it’s normal for them to feel anxious about it.

Fitter patients who are able to improve their health and activity levels recover from surgery more quickly and with fewer complications. What you do in the time leading up to surgery can have a really big impact on your recovery and long term health.

The Royal College of Aanesthetist's Fitter Better Sooner resources will provide you with the information you need to become fitter and better prepared for your operation. 

If you are feeling anxious about having an operation or have needle phobia, you can find information here


Common events and risks in anaesthesia


This summary card produced by the Royal college of Aanesthetists shows the common events and risks that healthy adult patients of normal weight face when having a general anaesthetic for routine surgery.


allrisks   More detailed information for specific risks may be found here



You may also like to watch the video "What is an anaesthetic and what are the risks" produced by Health and Care Innovations, a partnership with Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. 

Spinal anaesthesia explained

your spinal
    You may be offered a spinal anaesthetic for your surgery
  • What is a spinal?
  • How is the spinal performed?
  • What will I feel ?
  • Why have a spinal?
  • Side effects or complications

Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists



Anaesthetic choices for hip or knee replacement

hip or knee replacement
    You are going to have a hip or knee replacement soon.
  • You may have heard that there are several different types of anaesthetic
  • Who will give my anaesthetic?
  • What type of anaesthetics are recommended?
    • general anaesthetic
    • spinal anaesthetic
    • epidural anaesthetic
    • nerve blocks (to help with pain afterwards)
    • combinations of anaesthetics
  • What are the risks of these types of anaesthetic?
  • Do I have any special risks?
  • How will I feel afterwards?

Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists



Having a nerve block

nerve blocks 
    You may be offered a nerve block for your surgery - either as the sole anaesthetic technique, or as part of your pain relief plan
  • What is a nerve block?
  • How is it performed?
  • What will I feel ?
  • What are the benefits?
  • Side effects or complications

Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists



  • This video is specifically for patients having nerve blocks and is produced by  Regional Anaesthesia UK the specialist society for regional anaesthesia.

Local anaesthesia for eye surgery

 LA for eye operation  You are having a local anaesthetic procedure for eye surgery.
  • What are the advantages of local anaesthesia
  • I would really prefer a general anaesthetic, Do I have a choice?
  • Who administers the local anaesthetic and how is it given?
  • Who administers the local anaesthetic and how is it given?
  • Are there any complications of local anaesthesia?
  • Is there anything that makes people unsuitable for a local anaesthetic to the eye?

Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists



Factsheets on medical conditions relating to anaesthesia


The Royal College of Anaesthetists have been developed these factsheets on a number of medical conditions and topics relating to anaesthesia. 

These include

  • Suxamethonium apnoea
  • Malignant Hyperthermia
  • Myotonic Dystrophy
  • Lymphoedoema

These may be accessed here.


Care after an anaesthetic

sedation carer 

I have been asked to take my relative or friend home after they have had sedation for their  treatment or a procedure under general anaesthetic.

  • What should I expect? 
  • When can I collect my friend or relative? 
  • Will I be told what I need to do?
  • What should my friend or relative do at home? 
  • What should they not do? 

Many of these questions are answered in this downloadable PDF document prepared by the Royal College of Anaesthetists



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Plymouth Anaesthesia LLP, Nuffield Hospital, Derriford Road, Plymouth. PL6 8BG

Tel: 01752 777667 Email: