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Original Research

Access to difficult airway equipment and training for rural GP-anaesthetists in Australia: results of a 2012 survey

Submitted: 3 March 2012
Revised: 26 July 2012
Published: 6 October 2012

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Author(s) : Leeuwenburg TJ.

Tim Leeuwenburg

Citation: Leeuwenburg TJ.  Access to difficult airway equipment and training for rural GP-anaesthetists in Australia: results of a 2012 survey. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 2127. Available: (Accessed 24 October 2017)


Introduction: In rural Australia, general practitioners (GPs) form the frontline for provision of medical services. Besides responsibilities for primary care via private practice, rural doctors often provide emergency and inpatient services for rural hospitals. The aim of this study was to determine access to difficult airway equipment and training among the GP-anaesthetist cadre in rural Australia.
Methods:  Design: an online survey regarding availability of difficult airway equipment, access to ongoing training and inviting comments on rural anaesthesia in general. Setting: a questionnaire was distributed to rural doctors in January 2012 via membership databases of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and state-based Rural Doctor Workforce Agencies. Participants: 293 participants identified as a GP-anaesthetist working in rural Australia (65% response rate). Of these 83% were male, 17% female with the percentage of respondents from each state concordant with the distributions indicated by the 2010 Rural Health Workforce National Minimum Dataset. Main outcome measure: closed-ended questions were quantified and open-ended questions analysed to determine issues relevant to GP-anaesthetists.
Results:  Only 53% of GP-anaesthetists reported access to a difficult airway trolley or box in their facility. Lack of availability of certain airway equipment was reported among GP-anaesthetists, with very few having access to advanced intubation aids such as videolaryngoscopes or fibreoptic devices (flexible fibrescopes and/or malleable fibreoptic stylets). Open-ended questions suggested that GP-anaesthetists desired such aids to manage difficult airways. Only 79% had access to surgical airway or paediatric airway equipment. Of the respondents, 58% reported involvement in prehospital medicine but only 12% had received training in this challenging environment. A formal arrangement for prehospital responses existed for only 7% of respondents.
Conclusion:  Despite the existence of well-publicised algorithms for difficult airway management and the need for specific equipment to manage the difficult airway, Australian GP-anaesthetists report difficulty accessing essential equipment for these infrequent but life-threatening events. This is surprising in the light of recommendations from the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists. The consequences of difficulty in airway management can be catastrophic. Equipment needs must be balanced against important considerations including ease of use, initial and ongoing training, and cost. Suggestions for affordable equipment and ongoing training for rural GP-anaesthetists are made. The involvement of GP-anaesthetists in prehospital responses occurs in the absence of formal arrangements and with a dearth of training. There is scope to improve rural prehospital responses in Australia, utilising the advanced skills of GP-anaesthetists in resuscitation and airway management.

Key words: anaesthesia, Australia, equipment and training, prehospital medicine, rural doctors.

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