Lancaster University: Lancaster Medical School to help ease NHS surgery backlog with anaesthesia associate training programme for the North of England

Lancaster Medical School has been awarded £100,000 to help train anaesthesia associates to reduce long waiting times for NHS surgery.

Together with University College London, Lancaster is one of only two universities in the UK chosen by Health Education England to deliver a blended learning programme for Anaesthesia Associates.

Anaesthesia Associates (AAs) are highly trained, skilled practitioners who work as part of the team under the direction and supervision of a Consultant Anaesthetist.

They may be used to reduce operating theatre downtime, leading to increased throughput on operating lists and better use of theatres. AAs currently practice in a broad range of settings, including pre-operative assessment and provision of anaesthesia, in multiple specialties including day-case, cardiothoracic and transplant surgery.

The blended learning programme will be open to registered healthcare professionals and graduates with a minimum 2.1 honours degree in a science or healthcare discipline, who are appointed to a trainee anaesthesia associate post in a partner NHS Trust.

The Lancaster programme will be available to trainees in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber.

Dr Clifford Shelton, senior clinical lecturer at Lancaster Medical School and consultant anaesthetist at Wythenshawe Hospital, welcomed the news.

“Anaesthesia associates will have a substantial, positive impact on the delivery of anaesthesia services in the NHS. At present, anaesthesia faces significant workforce challenges, in common with many areas of healthcare. The forthcoming postgraduate diploma in anaesthesia and peri-operative sciences represents a great opportunity to help NHS Trusts across the north of England to welcome a new group of colleagues into their anaesthesia teams. Lancaster Medical School is privileged to be part of this exciting new development.”

The training programme will begin at Lancaster Medical School in the first quarter of 2023. The programme lasts two years, with Lancaster training at least 29 Anaesthesia Associates in the first year, rising to 58 in the second year.

This will help NHS Trusts across the North of England deal with a backlog of patients waiting for surgery.

According to a British Medical Association analysis of patients waiting for elective treatment in May 2022:

· over 6.6 million people are waiting for treatment (compared with 4.4 million pre-pandemic)

· over 330,000 patients are waiting over one year for treatment – 13 times the number waiting over a year in May 2020

· Over 2.4 million patients are waiting over 18 weeks for treatment

· There is a median waiting time for treatment of 12.7 weeks – significantly higher than pre-pandemic.

Head of Lancaster Medical School Professor Marina Anderson said: “At a time of such pressure on our NHS, there is an urgent need for innovation in our healthcare workforce in order to support the best care for the nation’s health. Health Education England’s initiative to train more anaesthesia associates across England is part of working differently to deliver excellent, efficient, equitable healthcare. Lancaster University Medical School is delighted to be working with Health Education England, partner NHS Trusts and statutory bodies on this important enterprise.”

The blended learning programme for Anaesthesia Associates – one of the Medical Associate Professions – uses a combination of learning approaches supported by technology.

Online, remote access to the programme will make it more accessible to those who may be unable to learn in traditional ways. This approach will help widen access to the learning and encourage participation and growth of the Anaesthesia Associate workforce.

Patrick Mitchell, Senior Responsible Officer for Medical Associate Professions, and Director of Innovation, Digital and Transformation, Health Education England said: “We are delighted to announce the successful award of the commission for this important programme. Such an expansion of the AA workforce will help us fulfil objectives set forth in the NHS Five-Year Plan to help teams better support patient workloads and the continuity of quality care.”

Lancaster University