History | Association of Anaesthetists


History of the Association of Anaesthetists

Modern anaesthesia is a well established medical specialism provided by highly trained doctors with high standards of patient safety. Historically, that was not always so. In the early twentieth century, anaesthesia was not well respected; anaesthetists were poorly paid and many GPs and surgeons would give anaesthetics to patients as a ‘sideline’. Patient safety was not good in those days. Then along came Dr Henry Featherstone. 

Born near Birmingham Henry qualified in medicine from Cambridge and Birmingham Universities in 1916. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and saw service during some of the worst fighting in the First World War.  

After the War Featherstone became a physician anaesthetist and was appointed consultant anaesthetist at the Birmingham General Hospital in 1926. In 1930 Featherstone became President of the Anaesthetic Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, at the time the most prestigious position in British anaesthesia.

Featherstone was determined to raise the status of his fellow anaesthetists among the medical profession, and in doing so to improve patient safety. In 1932 he founded the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, becoming its first President. The Association's motto is ‘Safety in sleep’.

Featherstone remained a major influence in anaesthetic circles until his death, aged 73. You can learn more about Henry in our Heritage Centre.

The Association and developments in anaesthesia

Since 1932 the Association has worked to promote safety in anaesthesia and to develop best practice in the specialty. As a membership organisation, it has represented anaesthetists in the UK and Ireland medically and politically, promoting and encouraging the academic and clinical advancement of anaesthesia and the welfare of anaesthetists. 

The Association has initiated or promoted all major developments in British and Irish anaesthesia, including:

  • The introduction of the Diploma in Anaesthetics (DA) in 1935
  • The launch of the Association’s journal Anaesthesia in 1946
  • Ensuring anaesthetists received consultant status in negotiations before the NHS was established in 1948
  • Instigating the founding of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (now the Royal College of Anaesthetists) in 1948
  • Supporting the foundation of the Faculty of Anaesthetists (now College) of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1959

Today, the Association is still at the forefront of developments in anaesthesia. We now have a membership of over 10,000, made up of doctors practising or training in anaesthesia or allied disciplines, mainly intensive care and pain medicine. 

We constantly strive to improve anaesthesia through education, training, research, and supporting the wellbeing of our members. This, in turn, helps to ensure the safety of patients.  

The Association remains an influential voice in health policy and practice and active advocacy and campaigns work.  

The Association adopted the motto ‘in somno securitas’ (safe in sleep) when we were granted the right to bear arms by King George VI in 1945. Both patients and anaesthetists can be secure in the knowledge that we continue to protect their mutual interests.

90 years of the Association of Anaesthetists

Watch the below video to learn about the 90 year history of the Association of Anaesthetists.

Homes of the Association

At first, Council meetings were held in London’s Harley Street at the rooms of Zebulon Mennell, President from 1938 to 1941.

When Archibald Marston was elected Honorary Secretary, the meetings moved to his rooms. Later Ashley Daly, President from 1941 to 1944, used accommodation at the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street, London.

In 1944 the Association moved to rooms at 45 Lincoln's Inn Fields, rented from the Royal College of Surgeons. A room for Council meetings and another for secretarial support were used.

In 1973 the whole of the Association moved to a small suite of offices in the British Medical Association's complex in Tavistock Square.

As the Association grew we needed our own premises - a ‘home for anaesthesia'. So, the lease of 9 Bedford Square was bought and in 1985 the Association moved in.

In 2002 the Association moved from Bedford Square to 21 Portland Place to allow us to run larger seminars and to provide better facilities for our members.

When the Association moved to 21 Portland Place, a new museum area was designed to tell the history and heritage of anaesthesia. 

Find out more about the Heritage Centre.

Find out more about hiring 21 Portland Place.

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