Recent reports have suggested that there could be severe NHS medicine shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As an anaesthetist, I’m going to be bold and say that drugs are pretty important in my profession. I don’t think many people watched the movie 127 Hours and thought “ha, we don’t need those pesky anaesthetists”. Except maybe a few surgeons.

So, should we end up with a nightmare next Halloween I’ve come up with a list of anaesthetic drugs we might be without, and some “alternatives” that might be considered.


We use anaesthetics that go into the vein, or gases that you inhale. These drift you off to sleep (or to a reversible drug-induced coma, but for some reason people find “sleep” a more palatable word). So before anaesthetics, how did they knock people out? One option was literally a blow to the head immediately before the start of the operation, which presumably then required another operation for the head injury. Retired boxers suddenly have new career prospects.


We like patients to be comfortable and have access to a range of painkillers. This is important so that they don’t wake up screaming afterwards, as it upsets the nurses. So, what would we do without painkillers for surgery? Well going by wild west movies, our no-deal Brexit cupboards might be stocked with wooden sticks and cheap whisky. With a good dose of moral support. And a cool hat. And maybe a horse. I’m getting distracted.

Hopefully there will be some left over as well.

Muscle relaxants

These were originally used as poison for arrows by indigenous tribes in rainforest regions, and then developed to provide muscle paralysis for surgery. So maybe a trade deal to buy blow darts for the anaesthetic room? They’d have excellent range, so, with practice, anaesthetists could potentially do their job without leaving the bush they’re hiding behind.

Antisickness Drugs

Having an anaesthetic can make you nauseous, so ideally we need antisickness drugs. Fortunately, there is already a range of potential solutions being trialled by millions of Britons after their nights out. A popular one is to lie in a darkened room for several hours, curled into the foetal position feeling huge amounts of regret. Shouting ‘I’m never going to drink again’ for the third time in a month is another common strategy.


Just roll a dice, flip a coin, and your cross fingers that any infection sorts itself out. Also, we’re likely out of thermometers so we’ll be using the Nando’s classification. Would you describe your fever as medium, hot or extra hot?


No caffeine for the surgeon or anaesthetist? Well it really would be safer to postpone the surgery.

Leave a Reply