A hypnotist, John Butler, will induce a state of "deep relaxation" in the unnamed patient for the duration of the 45-minute procedure to dull the pain. The operation will be broadcast live on More 4, the Channel 4 digital channel as part of a two-hour investigation into the role of hypnosis in health care.

Hypnotism is used in Belgium and other parts of Europe, and studies suggest that not using standard anaesthetics can speed recovery and reduce time spent in hospital. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Irish surgeon Jack Gibson performed more than 4,000 procedures under hypnosis, including plastic surgery and amputations. But associations with stage hypnotism have kept the practice at the margins of medicine.

Mr Hennigan, a colorectal surgeon who regularly performs hernia operations, said people expressed horror at the idea of doing an operation without anaesthetic. "They tell you it is impossible. But if there is a potentially powerful effect then we should explore it. Hypnosurgery is being used all over the world and people say they have less post-operative pain and faster recovery. The numbers are small so it could be time for a larger trial." The operation will follow the standard procedure for a hernia repair and an anaesthetist will be present throughout to step in if the pain gets too much for the patient. Hernias are normally performed under either general or local anaesthesia, with a 50-50 split between the two, Mr Hennigan said.

"I am a typical sceptical surgeon. I shall do what I do every day. The hypnotist's job is to demonstrate, if he does his job well, that the patient won't need anaesthetic." He added: "More and more people want to be in the driving seat when it comes to medical care. They worry about complications of surgery and the side-effects of drugs. If hypnosurgery does get people out of hospital faster and they can use fewer drugs, the public might like it and the NHS might save a lot."

No swinging pendulums or similar devices would be used, Mr Butler said. Instead, he would rely solely on words. "Contrary to popular opinion, a person under hypnosis is never in a coma or asleep. They are in a state of deep relaxation and as they go deeper they become more suggestible."

Preparation for the surgery would begin about 10 minutes before the operation and the hypnotic state would be maintained throughout. "I will give the patient a lot of suggestions that their sensations are disappearing, they are relaxing and they are losing their feelings. Then I will reassure them that they will recover well and they will feel comfortable. When the operation is over I will give them a count of five and they will come back to being fully alert."

Mr Butler has practised hypnotherapy on the NHS for chronic pain and other ailments for more than 20 years.

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