UK anaesthesia and intensive care specialties collaborating to manage additional medicine demand

Published: 12/04/2020

New guidance developed for alternative drugs and clinical techniques 

Anaesthetists and intensivists are experienced in providing safe care during times of medicine pressures 

Safe and compassionate care will remain our priority

In response to today’s media headlines regarding ‘potential shortages of intensive care medicines’, we would like to firstly recognise the concerns of our members, but also to highlight to the public that anaesthetic and intensive care staff across the NHS are used to managing drug stock levels through the use of alternative medications and techniques. We therefore have extensive experience of working to ensure the delivery of safe patient care at all times.

Our four organisations have worked closely with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England to develop and publish guidance on changes to anaesthetic and intensive care drug usage and administration. This guidance summarises potential mitigations to be used by anaesthetists and intensivists during the management of increased medicine demand.

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, the Intensive Care Society, the Association of Anaesthetists and The Royal College of Anaesthetists represent tens of thousands of doctors on the frontline of our nation’s response to COVID-19, and we think it is important that NHS patients and the general public understand that drug demand-supply mismatch in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine are not unknown to us, even under normal circumstances.

Early and co-ordinated action by anaesthetists, intensivists and pharmacists, and our on-going close collaboration with NHS England will preserve key drugs for those who need them. While we may not always be able to use our first choice drug, we expect to be able to use an appropriate alternative drug, therefore ensuring that all patients will receive effective medication when needed. This action will help us continue to provide safe anaesthesia and effective and compassionate intensive care. 

The key potential drugs currently under pressure are sedatives and painkillers used in hospitals, for which alternatives exist. 

We reiterate the absolute need for the UK public to adhere to the government’s guidance of “stay at home”. By staying at home, not only will you significantly reduce the chance of being infected with COVID-19, but you will save lives by stopping the spread of this virus. Your compliant and considerate actions will help reduce the burden on NHS resources and staff who are working night and day to treat incredibly sick patients. 

Help us reduce demand on critical drugs so we can help those who need them most. Please stay at home until the Government’s guidance changes. 

Please see our list of patient FAQs for answers to some common questions.

Professor Ravi Mahajan
President, Royal College of Anaesthetists

Dr Alison Pittard
Dean, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine 

Dr Ganesh Suntharalingam
President, Intensive Care Society 

Dr Kathleen Ferguson
President, Association of Anaesthetists