Employing ‘cut-price’ medics called anaesthesia associates (AAs) to work in operating theatres isn’t cost-effective because they’re paid too much, research has claimed.

The experts behind the study, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, claim they should either be given less cash or their role scrapped entirely.

AAs, whose responsibilities are similar to controversial physician associations (PAs), receive just two years’ training before they are let loose on patients. They are allowed to review patients before surgery and assess them for anaesthesia, take their medical history and make clinical assessments. They also monitor the clinical readings of patients while they are unconscious.

The NHS plans to hire 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help plug a shortfall of roughly 1,400 anaesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors. But there are fears that the original cost-saving objective of using AAs has fallen by the wayside amid a staffing crisis and record NHS waiting lists

And top medics have repeatedly raised safety concerns over the roles that AAs and PAs hold in the NHS.

A Mail on Sunday investigation last year found that many PAs were taking on duties far above what they are qualified for – such as making diagnoses and bending strict rules to prescribe medicines to patients.

Employing 'cut-price' medics called anaesthesia associates (AAs) to work in operating theatres isn't cost-effective because they're paid too much, research has claimed (Stock Photo)

Employing ‘cut-price’ medics called anaesthesia associates (AAs) to work in operating theatres isn’t cost-effective because they’re paid too much, research has claimed (Stock Photo)

The NHS plans to hire 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help plug a shortfall of roughly 1,400 anaesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors (Stock Photo)

The NHS plans to hire 2,000 more AAs by 2037 to help plug a shortfall of roughly 1,400 anaesthetists, who are fully qualified doctors (Stock Photo)

There are about 180 AAs in the UK and they are paid almost £50,000 a year – even as students. More experienced AAs’ salaries ‘greatly exceed this’, the report added.

A group of anaesthesia experts from UK and US universities looked at the financial consequences of expanding AA numbers. It found that to be economically viable, wages should be capped at £40,000 a year.

‘The driver that led to the creation of AAs in the first place was to limit or reduce costs,’ the researcher writes. ‘This original cost-saving objective may have been later supplanted by the now greater and urgent need to undertake the work, regardless of cost.’

Along with reducing AAs’ wages, the experts also suggest giving less leave and introducing longer hours, meaning they would be better value. However, they also concede: ‘This may come at the cost of fatigue, with attendant safety implications.’

The researchers add: ‘A final option is to recognise all these realities and limitations and to conclude that the UK AA programme, as it has evolved, is in fact economically non-viable and to terminate it.’

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