Three cases of unqualified NHS staff assisting inappropriately in operations came to light last week, writes Cherrill Hicks. One NHS operating department assistant (ODA) admitted he had cut out an appendix and made the first cut in a hernia operation, procedures beyond his training. "Barber-surgeon's" assistants pre-date nurses, going back at least 500 years.

Jenefer Osborne, 29, is a senior ODA at St Helier Hospital Trust, Carshalton, Surrey.

Training: two years

Experience: 11 years

Hours: 8am-5pm Monday to Friday plus on call one in four nights and one in four weekends.

Earnings: £16,995 pa basic. With overtime, about £28,000.

The job: "First thing in the morning I check all the anaesthetic machines and get the drugs ready for the anaesthetist. Then I have to check the patients: have they eaten or drunk anything, do they have any allergies, any crowns or wobbly teeth that might fall out? I check which side they're going to be operated on, make sure they've signed the consent form.

"After that we put the cannula in, ready for the anaesthetist. We wheel them through into theatre, position them on the table, make sure the lights are in the right place, pad out the pressure points - an unconscious patient can't tell you it hurts.

"We're also on call for emergencies. In a cardiac arrest we're allowed to intubate [put a tube down the trachea into the lungs] connect a patient up to the ECG, and defibrillate [administer an electric shock to the heart]."

Pros: "It's a great job, never boring. It can be completely quiet and five minutes later you'll be running round like an idiot with a patient haemorrhaging, two cardiac arrests and a Caesarean section." Cons: "The money isn't brilliant. It sounds like a lot with the overtime but you have to work ridiculous hours. What else? Hospital food. And not being able to eat when you're up at midnight: the canteen shuts at eight."

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