Care delivered by anaesthetists in Great Britain and Ireland is exceptionally high, with just 9 deaths recorded in 2012/13 while people were under anaesthetic – equivalent to 1 in 1,700 cases.

The figures, recorded as part of a survey carried out by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, show that the number of deaths while under anaesthetic sits at 0.06%. The findings are published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Anaesthesia.

The survey revealed that anaesthetists are responsible for the care of more than 3.5 million patients per year. This means that in a given year 1 in 20 of the population will require an anaesthetic. The survey, which was completed by anaesthetists in every NHS hospital in the UK, had a 98% return rate. It detailed information on nearly 2,500 cases, and provides a wealth of information about current anaesthetic processes and techniques.

The study revealed that three quarters of patients undergo general anaesthesia, while the remainder have their procedure either awake or sedated. Almost a quarter of procedures are emergencies. The survey also revealed that anaesthesia is a consultant-led service with senior doctors present for 87% of all anaesthetics and for three quarters of those administered "out of hours". 

Dr Mike Sury, Consultant Anaesthetist at Great Ormond Street and lead author, said: “The findings contrast interestingly with other studies that have looked at mortality after surgery throughout a hospital stay, such as the European Surgical Outcomes Trial (EuSOS) which reported a 3.6% (1 in 28) mortality. The current survey covers a broader group of patients, but for a shorter period of time, and the mortality is notably lower.”

Professor Jaideep Pandit, Consultant Anaesthetist in Oxford and Project Lead, said: “The high rates of senior doctor presence throughout the week show that anaesthetists are already embracing seven-day working. In addition the results clearly show the extent of service change that will be required for elective seven-day working to become the norm.”

Conducted in 2013, the survey forms part of 5th National Audit Project (NAP5). NAP5 studies accidental awareness during anaesthesia and will be published on September 10.