To assess the impact of introducing spinal anaesthesia for obstetric operative procedures on use of general anaesthesia and quality of regional anaesthesia in a unit with an established epidural service a retrospective analysis of routinely collected data on method of anaesthesia, efficacy, and complications was carried out. Data were collected from 1988 to 1991 on 1670 obstetric patients requiring an operative procedure. The introduction of spinal anaesthesia in 1989 significantly reduced the proportion of operative procedures performed under general anaesthesia, from 60% (234/390) in 1988 to 30% (124/414) in 1991. The decrease was most pronounced for manual removal of the placenta (88%, 48/55 v 9%, 3/34) and emergency caesarean section (67%, 129/193) v 38%, 87/229). Epidural anaesthesia decreased in use most significantly for elective caesarean section (65%, 77/118 v 3% 3/113; x2=139, p<0.0001). The incidence of severe pain and need for conversion to general anaesthesia was significantly less with spinal anaesthesia (0%, 0/207 v 3%, 5/156; p<0.05). Hypotension was not a problem, and the incidence of headache after spinal anaesthetic decreased over the period studied. Introducing spinal anaesthesia therefore reduced the need for general anaesthesia and improved the quality of regional anaesthesia.
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