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How many of us actually experience accidental awareness during anaesthesia?

Posted in: Medical Negligence 

A study carried out earlier this year has revealed that more of us experience accidental awareness under general anaesthetic than first thought. The national data — based on an audit for the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland — uncovered that around 15,000 patients had proven to their doctors that they could recall aspects of their surgery; however, when further probed, a much higher figure (1 in 500) could recall being partially conscious under general anaesthetic.

Accidental awareness during surgery is the third most common cause of medical negligence litigation against anaesthetists in the UK, with one third of the 15,000 aware-patients reporting distress. Accidental awareness during surgery is also the second most common concern raised by patients prior to undergoing surgery.

Endured a 40-minute operation while awake

One patient, Sarah Newton (32), told media about her ‘accidental awareness’ experience earlier in the year, claiming that she could feel her stomach being cut and that she endured a “massive amount of pain”.  Ms Newton claimed that because of the muscle relaxant, she was unable to move and therefore could not inform medics of her experience until after the 40-minute operation was finished.

Professor Jaideep Pandit, a consultant anaesthetist and Oxford graduate, believes that the number of patients who are “dimly” awake during surgery could be very high. He believes, however, that this is not a full state of consciousness, but a “third state of consciousness”, known as “dysanaesthesia”. This state is where a patient may have some awareness, but can feel no pain or distress.

Despite concerns, it is far more dangerous for an anaesthetist to administer a higher dosage of anaesthetic than a dosage that is slightly too little.

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