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We conducted an observational study of serious airway complications, using similar methods to the fourth UK National Audit Project (NAP4) over a period of 1 year across four hospitals in one region in the UK. We also conducted an activity survey over a week, using NAP4 methods to yield an estimate for relevant denominators to help interpret the primary data. There were 17 serious airway complications, defined as: failed airway management leading to cancellation of surgery (eight); airway management in recovery (five); unplanned intensive care admission (three); and unplanned emergency front of neck access (one). There were no reports of death or brain damage. This was an estimate of 0.028% (1 in 3600) complications using the denominator of 61,000 general anaesthetics per year in the region. Complications in patients with 'predicted easy' airways were rare (approximately 1 in 14,200), but 45 times more common in those with 'predicted difficult' airways (approximately 1 in 315). Airway management in both groups was similar (induction of anaesthesia followed by supraglottic airway or tracheal tube). Use of awake/sedation intubation, videolaryngoscopy and high-flow nasal oxygenation were uncommon even in the predicted difficult airway patients (in 2.7%, 32.4% and 9.5% of patients, respectively). We conclude that the incidence of serious airway complications is at least as high as it was during NAP4. Despite airway prediction being used, this is not informing subsequent management.

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Journal article



Publication Date



Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK.