They work behind the scenes but play a pivotal role in surgeries. Yet, anaesthetists are limited in number in several hospitals.

“Earlier, there was only general surgery. Today, there are several branches, including neurosurgery, cardiac, surgical gastroenterology, urology, plastic, paediatric, geriatric and vascular surgery. The branches have increased and anaesthetists cater to all these specialities. The number of anaesthetists has definitely increased but not in proportion to the increase in surgical specialities,” said a senior government doctor.

Doctors say the number of anaesthetists should be in relation to the number of surgical units in a hospital.

An anaesthetist in a government medical college hospital said peripheral hospitals were facing a shortage of anaesthetists. “There are MBBS doctors trained in anaesthesia to perform caesarean sections to fill the gaps. The city government medical college hospitals are better placed. The government could recruit more anaesthetists in these centres,” he said.

Another senior anaesthetist said only one-tenth of the number of anaesthetists in the city hospitals were available in mofussil areas. With caesarean surgeries on the rise, more anaesthetists are the need of the hour.

V. Pankajavalli, chief anaesthesiologist, Institute of Child Health, said the role of anaesthetists had diversified with a recent addition being critical care. “Anaesthesia underwent dramatic changes during 1980-1985. We have pre-anaesthesia assessment clinics, post-anaesthesia intensive care units and recovery rooms for paediatric surgery patients. Our role has extended outside operation theatres for radio diagnosis — MRI, CT scan and angiogram and radio-therapeutic procedures. The speciality has developed, but the number of anaesthetists needs to be increased,” she said.

There is low awareness on the role of anaesthetists among the public and less one-on-one interaction with patients, she pointed out. “But things are changing now. If we want to increase the intake of students, we need to increase the posts of professors, assistant professors and tutors,” she added.

V. Kanagasabai, director of medical education, said the number of MD anaesthesia seats was 10 till 2010 and had increased to 18. “This is a three-year programme and we have a total of 54 postgraduates. The diploma in anaesthesia, a two-year course, has 12 seats, which means there are 24 candidates. We are taking steps to increase the strength,” he said.

He said earlier, the Medical Council of India (MCI) allowed one candidate per professor and later increased it to two. “Considering the number of surgical specialities and upcoming branches, there is a need for more anaesthetists. MCI could consider relaxing its rules to increase the number of students per professor. Then, we will have more PG students,” he said.

“We are also taking steps to start PG courses in anaesthesia in the new medical colleges,” he added.

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