Anaesthesia nurses are also known as anaesthesia associates or anaesthesia assistants. These people are specialist nurses who give anaesthetics to patients before, during and after surgery. They are an important part of the health family of the UK. As an anaesthesia nurse, you will usually work in hospitals run by the National Health Service (NHS). Alternatively, you may also work in private hospitals, but this is much less common. As an anaesthesia nurse, you can also work in a location such as pain clinics and outpatient surgical centres. The role of anaesthesia nurses has been developing for many decades. In fact, the first people were employed in this specific role in the 1960s as specialised assistants to qualified anaesthetists. A shortage of anaesthesia nurses in recent years means the position is increasingly well-regarded. Because of this, the pay rate has been increasing.
What Does an Anaesthesia Nurse Do
Anaesthesia nurses work as assistants to qualified anaesthetists. These are the largest group of hospital-based specialists. Their job is to give anaesthetics for surgical, medical and psychiatric procedures. In this role you would also work with the wider theatre and critical care teams. This will include anaesthetists, surgeons and operating department practitioners. It will also include nurses and intensive care and emergency medicine doctors. The anaesthesia team also facilitates pain-free childbirth. You will also help resuscitate acutely unwell patients. In fact, your job will support the running of chronic pain services. These nurses can also work in intensive care units. Working with anaesthetists, qualified anaesthesia nurses support the four stages of anaesthetic treatment. These stages are:
- Preparation: Helping to assess a patient’s fitness for anaesthesia and supporting the development of an anaesthetic plan.
- Induction: Assisting in initiating the anaesthesia.
- Maintenance: Continuing the anaesthesia while monitoring a patient’s condition, This will include checking the activity of the heart, blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. You will also track breathing, body temperature, the depth of anaesthesia and the body fluid balance. All of these different indicators are vital in keeping a patient alive and healthy during surgical procedures.
- Recovery: Working alongside the anaesthetist, you will also reverse the anaesthesia. Once this is done you can support the patient’s recovery
Anaesthesia Nurse Specific Activities
Anaesthesia nurses are expected to play a leading role in the following activities:
- Reviewing patients before surgery and assessing them for anaesthesia.
- Taking a medical history and clinical assessment. This activity will allow for an anaesthesia plan to be created.
- Inducing, maintaining and waking up patients from anaesthesia. You will do this under appropriate supervision.
- Using anaesthesia techniques/agents, medications and specialist equipment.
- Interpreting and monitoring clinical readings and patients’ parameters during anaesthesia. At the same time, if you see anything unusual then you must respond appropriately.
- Initiating and managing medications, fluid, and blood therapy is also required.
- Identifying potential issues during surgery and anaesthesia is critical. You also need to take action and seek appropriate support when required.
- Ensuring that there is a plan for patients following their operation and that it’s carried out.
- Being involved in the teaching, supervising and assessing of other team members.
Who Employs Anaesthesia Nurses
In most circumstances, anaesthesia nurses in the UK work within NHS hospitals. This means they are paid for by health authorities and they have to work to certain levels with the public. Consequently, all jobs an anaesthesia nurse does through their NHS employment will be delivered free to the public. Additionally, you will be classed as public-sector workers. Some anaesthesia nurses will also work in private hospitals. Consequently, these types of anaesthesia nurses will be classified as private-sector workers.
Job Salary for an Anaesthesia Nurse
The salary levels of anaesthesia nurses are set based on National Health Service (NHS) pay and conditions between Bands 5 and 7. These bands are re-negotiated every year. The current pay rates for the different bands in England are:
<2 years’ experience £28,407 2-4 years £30,639 4+ years £34,581
<2 years’ experience – £35,392 2-5 years – £37,350 5+ years – £42,618
<2 years’ experience – £43,742 2-5 years – £45,996 5+ years – £50,056 Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage must be paid to people aged 23 and over. This means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year.
Geographic Weightings in Pay
Some anaesthetic nurses get additional pay to help them with the cost of living in areas where things cost more. Recent geographical weightings are:
- Inner London: 20% of basic salary, subject to a minimum payment of £4,888 and a maximum payment of £7,377.
- Outer London: 15% of basic salary, subject to a minimum payment of £4,108 and a maximum payment of £5,177.
- Fringe: 5% of basic salary, subject to a minimum payment of £1,136 and a maximum payment of £1,915.
How Often is an Anaesthetic Nurse Normally Paid
Anaesthetic nurses can normally expect to be paid a salary every month. This is the standard method of payment for employees of the NHS.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for an Anaesthetic Nurse
Salaries are based on the NHS pay band system. Anaesthesia nurses are paid between Bands 5 and 7 depending on experience and seniority. These pay bands are negotiated between the government and trade unions operating in the NHS.
What Sort of Contracts Do Anaesthetic Nurses Have
Anaesthetic nurses will have set contracts that guarantee a minimum number of hours per week.
After completion of the training, anaesthesia nurses will be paid at least on NHS pay band 5 with the chance for additional payments linked with career progression and length of service. Additional payments based on geographic weightings to deal with higher costs of living also exist for those living in London and the surrounding area.
How to Become an Anaesthesia Nurse
Understanding the educational and training requirements to become an anaesthesia nurse is important if you want to become one. To apply for a post as a student anaesthesia associate, you’ll need to be one of two things already:
- An experienced registered health care professional such as a nurse or operating department practitioner with at least three years full-time, post-qualification work experience and evidence of recent academic study.
- A university graduate with a biomedical science or biological science 2:1 honours degree or better.
Even with either of these backgrounds, you are then still expected to undertake further training.
Qualifications/Courses – Anaesthesia Nurse
In order to qualify as an anaesthesia nurse within the NHS you must complete a full-time, 24 or 27-month postgraduate qualification. Its length will depend on the university programme linked to your hospital. Most of your study will be within a clinical placement being taught by medical anaesthetists under direct NHS supervision. This learning will be supported by access to teaching and learning materials from the universities delivered in several formats and ways, including simulation and online material. Topics covered in your training will always include:
- The anaesthesia machine and monitoring
- The heart and circulation.
- The airways and lungs.
- The kidneys, liver, endocrine system, and blood.
- Effective management of life-threatening emergencies.
General Skills Required
- An anaesthesia nurse must have the willingness to learn about human anatomy. You must be prepared to keep learning about new issues in medicine and administering anaesthesia throughout your working life.
- Strong emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure.
- Excellent communication skills are needed because you will be working with a wide variety of different people from different walks of life and, usually, a wide variety of ages. This will include the families of patients as well as the patient themselves.
- You will also need to be able to put patients at their ease and gain their confidence. This includes the ability to work sensitively and constructively with patient fears.
- Excellent problem-solving and diagnostic skills.
- You must be a good team player, and have the ability to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in healthcare.
- Some computer literacy to record information relating to patients.
- Confidentiality relating to patient records.
- A clean Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required for people who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults.
Mechanical Skills Required
An anaesthesia nurse will need to be able to operate all of the anaesthesia apparatus and monitors that check and maintain the health of a patient.
Challenges of Being an Anaesthesia Nurse
- Any aspect of health care is challenging for all the professionals involved, but being an anaesthesia nurse can be especially challenging because of the severity and seriousness of the illnesses of patients. Every anaesthesia nurse will regularly encounter death.
- Maintaining a professional outlook which treats the public with respect, no matter how difficult a patient is being, is essential.
- Administering anaesthesia is often repetitive work, so effort must be made to keep focused and treat each patient as an individual.
- You will always need to wear protective clothing and a uniform.
- Exposure to unpleasant sights and smells is part of the job.
- You must always be prepared for the unexpected. This can be exciting but also challenging at times.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- As an anaesthesia nurse you need to be a person with a commitment to the values of the NHS.
- A person with a genuine interest in healthcare. In particular, you should be skilled in the administration and effect of anaesthesia.
- Someone with a calm and patient outlook and the ability to deal with stress.
- You must be a person who can deal with losing patients.
- A team player who can work with direction from more senior team members.
- Someone willing to learn as their career progresses and they build up a specialism.
- You should also be a responsible person who is dedicated to the care of a patient for the duration of their operation.
General Expected Working Hours
The anaesthesia team will work on a rota basis. Expect to work at least a fifty-hour week, with the dates of your work often changing.
Location of Work
The majority of anaesthesia nurses usually work in hospitals run by the National Health Service (NHS). Some may also work in private hospitals, but this is much less common. The departments or functions in both NHS and private hospitals where you can find anaesthesia nurses include:
- Critical care services for intensive care and high-dependency patients.
- Obstetric units dealing with pregnancy and childbirth.
- Resuscitation services.
- Emergency departments.
- Chronic pain management and acute pain teams.
- Perioperative clinics.
- Psychiatric wards for patients receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
- Radiology in relation to anaesthesia for CT scans and MRI scans, especially in children.
- Inter-hospital transfers of critically ill patients.
Anaesthesia is a dynamic speciality with several areas. This means that the role can expand into because of the range of subjects involved. With further training and continuing experience, anaesthesia nurses often apply for roles in specialist anaesthesia teams or clinical management. Some even move into education or research. Other careers in medicine or nursing may also open up.