Home Health Revealed: The high cost of surgery helpers as experts say ‘cut price’ workers are draining the NHS because they are being paid too much

Revealed: The high cost of surgery helpers as experts say ‘cut price’ workers are draining the NHS because they are being paid too much

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  • NHS plans to hire 2,000 more anesthesia associates by 2037 to cover shortfall

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Employing “cut-rate” doctors called anesthesia associates (AAs) to work in operating theaters is unprofitable because they are paid too much, research claims.

The experts behind the study, published in the British Journal of Anesthesia, say they should be given less money or eliminated from their role entirely.

AAs, whose responsibilities are similar to those of the controversial medical associations (PAs), receive only two years of training before being released to patients. They are allowed to review patients before surgery and evaluate them for anesthesia, take their medical history, and perform clinical evaluations. They also monitor patients’ clinical readings while they are unconscious.

The NHS plans to recruit 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help cover a shortfall of around 1,400 anesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors. But there are fears the original cost-saving goal of using AA has fallen by the wayside amid a staffing crisis and record waiting lists in the NHS.

And top doctors have repeatedly raised safety concerns about the roles AAs and PAs play in the NHS.

A Mail on Sunday investigation last year found that many personal assistants were taking on tasks far above what they were qualified for, such as making diagnoses and breaking strict rules to prescribe medicines to patients.

Employing “cut-price” doctors called anesthesia associates (AA) to work in operating rooms is not profitable because they are paid too much, research finds (Stock Photo)

The NHS plans to recruit 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help cover a shortfall of around 1,400 anesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors (File photo)

The NHS plans to recruit 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help cover a shortfall of around 1,400 anesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors (File photo)

The NHS plans to recruit 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help cover a shortfall of around 1,400 anesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors (File photo)

There are around 180 AAs in the UK and they are paid almost £50,000 a year, even as students. Salaries for more experienced AAs “far exceed this”, the report adds.

A group of anesthesia experts from universities in the United Kingdom and the United States analyzed the financial consequences of increasing AA numbers. It found that, to be financially viable, salaries should be capped at £40,000 a year.

“The main reason that led to the creation of AA was to limit or reduce costs,” writes the researcher. “This original goal of cost savings may have subsequently been superseded by the now greater and urgent need to get the work done, regardless of cost.”

As well as reducing AA salaries, experts also suggest giving less holiday and introducing more hours, meaning they would be better value. However, they also admit: “This can come at the cost of fatigue, with consequent implications for safety.”

The researchers add: “A final option is to recognize all of these realities and limitations and conclude that the UK AA programme, as it has evolved, is in fact economically unviable and end it.”

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