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Shortages in the physician anaesthesia workforce have led to proposals to introduce new staff groups, notably in the UK National Health Service (NHS) Anaesthesia Associates (AAs) who have shorter training periods than doctors and could potentially contribute to workflow efficiencies in several ways. We analysed the economic viability of the most efficient staffing model, previously endorsed by both the UK Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists, wherein one physician supervises two AAs across two operating lists (1:2 model). For this model to be economically rational (something which neither national organisation considered), the employment cost of the two AAs should be equal to or less than that of a single supervisor physician (i.e. AAs should be paid <50% of the supervisor's salary). As the supervisor can be an autonomous specialty and specialist (SAS) doctor, this sets the economically viable AA salary envelope at less than £40,000 per year. However, we report that actual advertised AA salaries greatly exceed this, with even student AAs paid up to £48,472. Economically, one way to justify such salaries is for AAs to become autonomous such that they eventually replace SAS doctors at a lower cost. We discuss some other options that might increase AA productivity to justify these salaries (e.g. ≥1:3 staffing ratios), but the medico-political consequences of each of them are also profound. Alternatively, the AA programme should be terminated as economically nonviable. These results have implications for any country seeking to introduce new models of working in anaesthesia.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Anaesth

Publication Date



health economics, medical education, medical staffing, operating theatres, patient safety, service delivery, workforce