What is an Anaesthesia Associate (AA)?
An AA is a new member of the anaesthetic team. They are trained both in the underlying scientific and medical knowledge pertinent to anaesthesia, and in the skills of administering anaesthesia. They will work in a team with anaesthetists enabling one medically qualified anaesthetist to simultaneously conduct anaesthesia in two places. These must be adjacent or very close together within a single operating suite.

What will the AA do?
They will perform duties delegated to them by their medical anaesthetic supervisor. These will include pre and post-operative patient assessment and care, maintenance anaesthesia and (under direct supervision) conduct the induction and emergence from anaesthesia. AAs will also deputise for anaesthetists in a variety of situations where their airway and venous cannulation skills will assist in patient care and where medically qualified anaesthetists cannot be available.

What is the Royal College of Anaesthetists involvement in the AA project?
The Royal College of Anaesthetists is a partner with the AAGBI, the NHSU, the Changing Workforce Programme and the University of Birmingham in developing AA training. Specifically, the RCoA is responsible for the development and assessment of workbased Competencies.

How will AAs train?
They will undertake a two-year and three month service based course. Workplace teaching and competency assessment will be combined with distance learning and small group teaching in the theory elements of anaesthetic practice. There will be academic assessment and work based assessment throughout the course that will lead to the simultaneous award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Anaesthetic Practice and Affiliate of the Royal College of Anaesthetists.  Trainees who wish to do so will be able to continue part time academic work, whilst working as a trained AA in order to achieve a Master’s degree.

How is training organised?
Hospitals that offer training will link with a number of local hospitals to form a group. Each hospital will recruit two trainees. The group of six to 12 trainees so formed will form a training cluster. Academic support will be from a local university that will be recruited to support the cluster in offering the course that has been developed by the RCoA and University of Birmingham. There will be a programme of workplace instruction and regular tutorials and small-group sessions. Successful trainees will be awarded the Postgraduate Diploma in Anaesthetic Practice by the local university that has supported their cluster.

Who is training at present?
Six trainees were started in a phased trial of training during 2004, these trainees participated in the design of the course. From that first cohort, 5 qualified and are now working in Trusts around the country. Since those early days a further 35 qualified in 2008, and currently there are 65 in various phases of training.

How many AAs will be trained?
The rollout of the AA programme will be ‘demand led’ by trusts themselves. Trusts will propose a programme and will obtain funding through their Strategic Health Authorities. The numbers of trainees therefore will depend upon the priority that trusts and SHAs give to their development.

Who will be eligible for training?
The course will be science based. The prime requirement is therefore that trainees can cope with the learning at this level. There will be no absolute requirements for trainees except that all must be able to show that they have had recent experience of successful academic work at the required level. This level is, broadly speaking, the same as would be expected in a first year university course in biological sciences. Trainee AAs will be recruited from the ranks of existing healthcare workers (Nurses, ODPs, etc) and also directly from graduates with an appropriate background. Potential trainees will also be judged on their commitment to, and suitability for, a career in the high-pressure environment of anaesthesia and on their suitability for working in the care of patients.

Do I need a degree to get on the National learning programme?
No – a degree is not essential, though having a suitable degree that includes human physiology is a clear indication of an applicant’s potential to deal with the theoretical part of the course. There are many ODPs and Nurses who already work in the theatre environment, and who would like to consider this new career, but whose first qualification is at the undergraduate diploma level. Such applicants will in many cases be very suitable for AA training provided that they can demonstrate recent appropriate study of medical sciences at the required standard.

I am a diploma level ODP and I am interested in training. What can I do to make myself suitable for appointment?
If you have not done any academic ‘book work’ for a number of years, you may benefit from undertaking an appropriate course, before you apply. There are many modules of human physiology, pharmacology and therapeutics available from higher education institutions, both as part time courses and as distance learning. Such a course can be included in your Personal Development Plan in your current job. Learning more about anaesthesia and learning new skills will not help you get onto the new course as these things are taught during the course. The Association of Operating Department Practitioners will be able to give you advice on how best to proceed.

I am a graduate in medical sciences. What should I do to make myself suitable for appointment?
You have demonstrated your academic suitability. Do you understand the working lives of members of the anaesthetic team? Do you know anything about anaesthesia and surgery? Are you a suitable person to have a career dealing with people at the times when they are at their most vulnerable and distressed? If you cannot demonstrate that you have this knowledge and capacity, then you should consider experiencing some sort of work that involves dealing directly with people. This could be voluntary work, with the elderly for example, or some sort of employment in health and social care.

I am a registered nurse with a nursing degree but my course did not include very much physiology and pharmacology and I am worried about being out of my depth on the course.
When you apply for admission to the course your science background will be reviewed and you will be advised whether or not you are likely to be able to cope. You can help your chances of being accepted, and of successfully completing the course by doing a suitable science course as part of your professional development in your current post. The National Association of Theatre Nurses and British Anaesthetic and Recovery Nurse Association can provide you with advice about how best to proceed.

Can I register my interest?
Yes - please click here to go to the Association of Anaesthesia Associates website, where you will find the lastest information regarding qualifications, courses, universities and much more.