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Have you experienced anaesthesia awareness due to negligence? We can help

Having an anaesthetic usually works just as it should - keeping you pain-free during a medical procedure. But sometimes, you might feel pain or other sensations despite being given an anaesthetic.

This is known as anaesthesia awareness and it can be a very distressing and painful experience, sometimes with long-lasting consequences. Although relatively rare, it does happen - and if it has happened to you, we may be able to help you make a claim for compensation.

What is anaesthesia?

Most of us at one time or another have an anaesthetic before a test, operation or other medical procedure. An anaesthetic is a medicine that creates ‘anaesthesia'. This is a loss of sensation that prevents us from experiencing discomfort or pain during the procedure. 

Anaesthesia is a vital component of modern medicine. It enables doctors and dental surgeons to perform many procedures that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible. The development of effective anaesthetics has made all kinds of life-saving procedures possible. 

Thankfully, most people have no problems with their anaesthetic. But occasionally, things do go wrong. If you think you or a loved one has suffered due to anaesthetic negligence, call us for free today on  or fill in our secure online form and we'll call you back. We're here to help, answering any questions and offering free, independent and impartial advice.

What are the types of anaesthesia?

Anaesthesia can take several forms, used individually or in combination. The main three categories are as follows:

General anaesthesia

A properly administered general anaesthetic will leave the patient completely unconscious, but in a way that is controlled by medical professionals. General anaesthetic is used for the most serious procedures, or where having the patient unconscious greatly assists medical professionals. It can take the form of a liquid injection or gas. 

The main benefit of a general anaesthetic is that it should remove all the pain patients would otherwise experience. If you have a general anaesthetic, you should also be unaware of the surgery taking place. A general anaesthetic also helps medical teams as it prevents patients from moving during the procedure.

A general anaesthetic is usually given by an anaesthetist; a specialist doctor trained in safe and effective practices. They should take steps to ensure your safety. These include asking about your medical history, current health and lifestyle. You should also have clear instructions on what to do before the general anaesthetic, including whether it's okay to eat or drink. 

If for any reason something went wrong with your general anaesthetic, we understand how traumatic it can be. We all have a legal and moral right to expect the very best care. If this hasn't been your experience, please get in touch on  so we can assess whether you might be able to make a compensation claim.

Local anaesthesia

A local anaesthetic numbs a small area of the body. The patient remains awake, but experiences little or no pain. Local anaesthetics are typically for minor procedures, or for major procedures such as a ‘scalp block' where the patient is awake during brain surgery.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence lists the different types of local anaesthetic drugs. These include those commonly used by dentists before otherwise painful procedures. Hospital doctors, GPs and nurses also use local anaesthetic, for example to numb an area around a wound before stitching.

Regional anaesthesia

A regional anaesthetic is a form of local anaesthesia administered to a larger area of the body. It's usually delivered by injection or through a small tube called a catheter. 

It's a useful tool for when a local anaesthetic wouldn't provide sufficient pain relief. Another benefit is that it avoids the potential side effects and complications of a general anaesthetic. Examples include epidural anaesthesia to numb the lower half of the body during childbirth, and spinal anaesthetic to numb the lower back during surgery.

Did you know?

According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, anaesthesia is the largest single hospital specialty in the NHS.

The College is part of the ‘Safe Anaesthesia Liaison Group', which was formed in 2008 to review and analyse anaesthesia related serious incidents. This work enables the group to provide anaesthetists with regular updates on safety issues. 

What can go wrong with anaesthesia?

Anaesthesia is vital for modern medicine. Thankfully, in most cases, it is administered without any complications. Doctors and anaesthetists are in the main incredibly professional and competent. 

Some patients will experience minor side effects. These include feeling sick or vomiting, dizziness, having a headache, or general aches and pains. Other side effects can include memory loss and difficulty passing urine.

But sometimes patients suffer more serious complications, possibly following anaesthetic negligence. The anaesthesia page on the NHS website lists complications including permanent nerve damage, a severe allergic reaction and even death

If your experience of anaesthesia was affected by negligence - or you're reading this on behalf of someone affected - we know how traumatic this can be. We support people who are suffering as a result of medical negligence every day, and we can talk through your circumstances to see if we can help.

What is anaesthesia or anaesthetic awareness?

Another potential complication is anaesthesia awareness, which is also known as anaesthetic awareness. This is an event where the patient does not experience the expected type and level of sensation loss. 

In the case of a general anaesthetic, this can mean being conscious during some or part of the operation. Some people hear what's happening, or even experience severe pain or ‘the feeling of inability to move - or paralysis' according to the Royal College of Anaesthetists. The use of muscle relaxants means that patients often find it impossible to let doctors know they are aware. 

The level to which patients remember an awareness event differs from person to person. According to the British Journal of Anaesthesia, there are two types of memory after an anaesthesia awareness event.

  • Explicit/conscious memory of the event. This is where someone can remember and describe the event. You may experience these memories with or without prompting by events or questioning. Sometimes it can take several days or longer before a patient is aware of these memories. 
  • Implicit memory of the event. Even though someone might not consciously remember the event, it may still affect the person's mental health and ‘behaviour or performance' at times. Research featured at the Open Access Text website has found that cases of implicit memory are far higher than those of explicit memory. 

The good news is that anaesthetic awareness is quite rare. The Royal College of Anaesthetists report studies which found that as few as 1 in 14,000 patients had a general anaesthetic awareness experience. 

But they also report that awareness is more likely during certain operations or procedures where less anaesthetic tends to be used. For example:

  • In emergency surgery for major trauma the risk is as high as 1 in 20  
  • In cardiac surgery the risk is 1 in 100
  • In emergency Caesarean section under a general anaesthetic the risk is 4 in 1,000

For people who do experience an awareness event, perhaps because of anaesthetic negligence, the consequences can be significant. If it has happened to you, we may be able to help you make a compensation claim to support your recovery. Please call us on or request a call back and our friendly team will confirm whether you might be able to make a compensation claim.

What are the potential impacts of anaesthetic awareness?

If you have memories of what happened during general anaesthesia, it could have serious consequences for you. Remembering a feeling of paralysis or excruciating pain can be very traumatic. 

Whatever the form of anaesthesia awareness, it can leave a patient with long lasting damage to their mental health and wellbeing. Impacts may include:

  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Flashbacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Being pre-occupied with death

Many people also develop a fear of operations and anaesthesia. This can have serious issues if they require future surgery. In fact, such fear is well-founded. Patients who have experienced an episode of anaesthetic awareness are more likely to experience it again the next time they have an anaesthetic.

What are the common causes of anaesthetic awareness?

Here are some causes of anaesthesia awareness

  • A patient's resistance to anaesthetic. Several factors could mean someone is less affected by anaesthetic. These include younger age, fever, obesity, smoking, heavy drinking and drug use. 
  • Poor communication with patients. It's important that the patient's medical history and current health are properly assessed. Only then is a suitable type and dose of anaesthetic given. Mistakes in this preparation phase can potentially lead to an episode of anaesthesia awareness. 
  • Faulty equipment. Equipment such as vaporizers and IV infusion pumps may suffer a malfunction during a procedure. Also, connections between equipment and the patient can get blocked or disconnected. In some cases, these failures are due to the anaesthetist not properly checking the equipment before or during the procedure. Anaesthetists should follow clear protocols to check that the equipment is working correctly. 
  • An inadequate dose of anaesthetic. One of more of the above issues can lead to an under-dose of anaesthetic. Poor technique by the anaesthetist may also be the issue. Anaesthetists take several factors into account, including whether the patient is very ill and whether they are taking medication. It is possible that they miss some of these or make a mistake in working out the type and dose of anaesthetic.   
  • Missing the signs of awareness. Medical professionals may miss signs of awareness such as sweating, hypertension, dilated pupils and the patient moving or grimacing.
  • Failures in monitoring the depth of anaesthesia. Anaesthetists train to monitor the depth of anaesthesia through various indicators, such as the amount of anaesthetic agent the patient exhales. Failing to do this monitoring correctly, or failure to take the correct action, can lead to anaesthesia awareness.  

The issue of experiencing pain during anaesthesia isn't limited to general anaesthetic. For example, women may unfortunately suffer excruciating pain despite having an epidural. In some cases, as mentioned in a paper published by the British Journal of Anaesthesia, this can be because the catheter is placed incorrectly.

What counts as medical negligence?

Medical negligence in the UK is defined as a situation where the doctor or hospital does not act to a standard that you as a patient could reasonably expect from them.

If a medical professional fails in their duty of care to you, it could count as medical negligence. There have been successful anaesthetic awareness claims following medical negligence related to anaesthesia.

When medical negligence such as a mistake leading to anaesthetic awareness happens to you or a loved one, we could help you make it right. Please call us free on or request a call back and amember of our legally trained team will listen to what you've been through and let you know whether you could make an anaesthetic compensation claim.

Can I make an anaesthesia negligence claim?

The definition of medical negligence is open to interpretation in each individual case. It can be a complicated area of law. That's why you need to talk to a specialist medical solicitor who can assess your case. 

The essential thing to consider is this: are you suffering after anaesthesia awareness? Has there been an impact on your mental or physical health, personal life, job or general wellbeing? And, if so, how severe is this? If you are suffering, and you believe this is due to negligence, talk to us today about your situation. 

Our legally trained advisors are here to help you understand whether you can make a claim. We'll listen to your experience and let you know if you may be eligible, and we'll never rush or pressure you to take things further. Please speak to us free and confidentially on  - we're here to help.

If you decide you'd like to proceed, we'll connect you with one of our specialist anaesthesia compensation lawyers. They have experience of assessing anaesthetic awareness claims and will confirm whether you could get some compensation.


Anaesthetic awareness claims require careful handling as they can be complex. A big feature of these cases is often psychological damage, so we take time to fully understand both the nature of the event and the consequences it has had.

Your solicitor will build a case to achieve the best possible outcome. They will use their experience in handling anaesthesia claims, and resources such as access to respected expert witnesses.

Kieron Gibbons

Operations Team Manager, National Accident Helpline

Can I make a claim on behalf of a family member?

Yes, you can make an anaesthetic compensation claim on behalf of someone who cannot make the claim themselves. They might be unable to do it for themselves because they are too young, don't speak the same language, or are suffering from brain injuries, dementia, severe autism or another mental health condition that may affect their decision making.

You would act as their ‘litigation friend'; somebody close to the person who has been affected, such as a parent, partner or friend. We know that it may feel like a big responsibility to be a litigation friend. That's why we're here to explain everything to you simply and to make the process straightforward. You can then focus on being there for the person affected by anaesthetic awareness.

How much compensation could I receive?

Letting a solicitor investigate what has happened is the best way for you to find out what an anaesthetic awareness claim may be worth. For example, people who experience an anaesthetic awareness event can go on to suffer from psychological trauma  that must be carefully assessed.

Compensation might be paid to you for one or both of these categories: 

  • General damages cover pain, suffering and ‘loss of amenity', which means the impact on your ability to do things you used to do, such as everyday tasks and hobbies. 
  • Special damages are the financial losses you've experienced as a direct result of your injury and are in addition to general damages. 

The Judicial College is the government department in the Ministry of Justice responsible for setting the guideline general damages amounts for all personal injury types. Included are the types of psychological impacts that could have been caused by anaesthetic negligence events.

Psychological impactsCompensation range
Severe PTSD (affecting everyday life tasks)£56,180 to £94,470

Moderate PTSD (recovered with professional help but the effects will likely cause significant disability for the foreseeable future)

£21,730 - £56,180

Less severe PTSD (full recovery within 1-2 years with only minor symptoms) 

£3,710 - £7,680

Contact us for free, impartial advice on  or fill in our secure online form to arrange a call back at a time that suits you. We'll never rush or pressure you into making a claim. We're here to help you understand whether you could make an anaesthetic awareness claimand to answer any questions.

And remember, we'll also usually be able to make your claim on a no win no fee basis, which means you won't pay any solicitors' fees if your claim isn't successful. 

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How could compensation help?

A financial award can be a real help for you if you are suffering the effects of medical negligence. In cases of anaesthetic awareness claims, it can help compensate you for what happened, including any financial losses you might experience. 

You can use anaesthetic compensation after a successful claim for just about anything that will help to relieve your distress. For example, it could fund much-needed therapy or counselling, or even pay for a holiday to help you take some time out from day-to-day difficulties.


My role often involves talking to people whose lives have been affected by a medical incident. Among these, anaesthesia awareness can be one of the most traumatic.


I know that reliving the incident can be hard, but it's also important that I understand what has happened. I do my best to be sensitive and sympathetic, reassuring clients that gathering the information helps us to achieve the best possible outcome with their anaesthetic compensation claim.

Casper Nicholettos

Legal Support Advisor, National Accident Helpline

How long do I have to make an anaesthetic awareness claim?

To qualify for making an anaesthesia awareness compensation claim, you must have suffered the effects of medical negligence within the last three years. The negligence involved must also have been all or partially the fault of a medical professional.

  • If you were 18 or over when the event occurred, you have three years to make a claim from the event or when you became aware of it. 
  • If you were under 18 at the time and no claim was made, you have three years from your 18th until your 21st birthday to claim.

There are exceptions to the three-year limitation, for instance if the victim experienced such severe side-effects they can't make the claim themselves. This also applies if they lack the psychological capability to do so, either as a result of the anaesthesia awareness event or a pre-existing disability.

If you've got any questions about making a no win no fee anaesthesia awareness claim, contact us for free and impartial advice on . We'll listen to what you've been through and let you know if we think you could make a no win no fee claim

Alternatively, try our eligibility verifier which asks some simple questions about what happened and we'll let you know whether we think you may have grounds to make an anaesthesia awareness claim.

Can I make a claim against the NHS for anaesthetic negligence?

If you've suffered from negligence that caused an anaesthesia awareness event while using the NHS in the last three years, then we may be able to help you make a claim for compensation.

Making a claim against such a large organisation can seem daunting and stressful. That's why we provide a helpful, competent and reassuring initial advice service. Then your specialist solicitor will be with you every step of the way. We've designed everything to make your claim as smooth as possible.

We can also reassure you that claiming against the NHS for anaesthetic negligence won't take money out of the NHS budget. All such claims are managed by the NHS's specialist insurance company, NHS Resolution. This means there is a pot of money to resolve patient claims against the NHS and nothing comes out of budgets for delivering NHS services.

Remember also that if you believe you experienced anaesthesia awareness you should report it to the relevant medical professionals immediately. You should make your anaesthetist aware without delay.   

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How long will my compensation claim take?

Every claim we handle is different and that makes it hard for us to say how long your compensation claim might take. Cases where fault is clear and straightforward may settle sooner than others. But as anaesthetic awareness claims are a type of medical negligence claim that tend to be complex, the process can take longer. 

If the claim does take a particularly long time, it may be possible to make your compensation payments in stages. This could help you with ongoing costs such as therapy or counselling fees. 

You can be rest assured that we will stay in touch with you throughout the anaesthesia claims process so that you'll always know how things are progressing.

Can I make a no win no fee anaesthesia negligence compensation claim?

Yes, and at National Accident Helpline we specialise in no win no fee claims. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to claim as there are no upfront financial costs for you to worry about. 

If you win your case, depending on your claim type and value, the other party may be required to contribute towards your legal costs. In most cases this contribution will only cover part of your legal costs and your solicitor will make a deduction from your compensation to cover costs such as:

  • The cost of any insurance policy required to make your claim risk free
  • Any legal costs, including fixed fees which are not recovered from the other side
  • Where applicable a “success fee” which takes account of the fact if the claim is unsuccessful the solicitors won't get paid at all

Your solicitor will discuss this with you in advance, so you'll know what to expect when your claim settles. There are no hidden costs or surprises. Unlike many solicitors we provide you with complete certainty and protection on legal costs. We guarantee that any deduction made from the compensation is capped at a level agreed by you, so whatever happens with your claim, there are no nasty surprises.

Although there are some circumstances under which you might not be able to make a no win no fee claim, this is very rare in our experience. If it is the case, our experts will let you know as soon as possible so you can decide what to do next.

Watch our video to have 'no win no fee' solicitors explained and find out how we work at National Accident Helpline before starting your claim for compensation today.

What is no win no fee?

Watch our video to have 'no win no fee' solicitors explained and find out how we work at National Accident Helpline before starting your claim for compensation today.

How do I start my claim with National Accident Helpline?

You could be entitled to compensation if you believe you have experienced an anaesthesia awareness event, and that the anaesthetist or other medical professionals may have been negligent. Call our team of legally-trained advisors on  or start a claim online.

If we assess that you may have a case for a claim, and if you decide to take things further, we'll put you in touch with one of our law firms specialising in medical negligence. 

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Is National Accident Helpline a claims management company?

No, we aren't. National Accident Helpline is an independent personal injury advice brand owned by legal practice National Accident Law. We are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the independent professional ethics and standards regulator that licences all solicitors across England and Wales. Our SRA registration number is 655606.

Claims management companies are overseen by a different regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). CMCs do not have their own law practices. 

We advise on personal injury claims as part of National Accident Law. We also work with a national network of specialist law firms who we choose carefully and check closely to make sure you receive an outstanding customer experience.

Frequently asked questions...

Simply put, medical negligence is where a medical professional or medical institution like a hospital harms a patient by act or omission in the course of treatment or surgical procedure. It also includes things like medical misdiagnosis where a wrongly-identified condition or one missed entirely harms the patient.

Let's look at the health service. NHS Resolution is the body that oversees medical negligence claims against the NHS. Their figures show that there were 15,655 claims settled in 2018/19 and that damages were awarded on 8,712 occasions - that's in almost 56% of cases.

Medicine is complex and so are claims made for negligence: if you think you've been affected, then come and talk to us. You'll be able to chat through your circumstances with one of our expert legal support advisors - and we'll give you the options you need to make an informed decision about what to do next.

Legal aid was a method of covering the cost of going to court and getting a fair hearing. In 2000, legal aid was made unavailable for personal injury cases, and instead no win no fee or conditional fee agreements were introduced.

All of our solicitors can help you to make your claim on a no win no fee basis, which means that if your case isn't successful you won't pay a penny.

If your case is successful, you'll pay a fee to your solicitor as a percentage of the amount you receive, and this percentage will have been agreed before starting your claim.

Find out more about legal aid and no win no fee here.