Operating theatre

Operating department practice: area of practice

Operating department practitioners are part of the team that cares for patients who are undergoing surgery.

Operating department practitioners (ODPs) care for patients at all stages of surgery. Patients may feel vulnerable or nervous and they may be in pain, and ODPs form part of the team that monitors and reassures them throughout their stay in hospital. This team includes anaesthetists, surgeons and nurses. ODPs work closely with them to make sure equipment, instruments and the environment are prepared appropriately for patients throughout the surgical process.

There are three stages to the surgical process: anaesthesia, surgery and recovery. ODPs play an important role at each stage. As well as preparing and monitoring anaesthetic and surgical equipment, they scrub up and handle and monitor equipment in the operating theatre. After an operation ODPs provide care and expertise to patients in recovery, making sure they’re managing their pain and that they’re ready to be discharged to a ward.

Many operating theatres are accessible 24 hours a day, so ODPs need to work flexible hours.  This normally involves working shifts, nights, on-call and weekends. However, the NHS also promotes working arrangements such as flexitime and part-time work. There are opportunities for ODPs to work outside the operating theatre too. They may work in other hospital departments such as:

  • X-ray
  • accident and emergency
  • intensive care
  • maternity and resuscitation services
  • emergency teams

It’s also possible to work with GPs who carry out minor surgery or with any of the armed forces.

Training as an ODP

‘Operating Department Practitioner’ is a protected title, which means that in order to practice as an you will need a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) approved qualification. Training is typically a two-year programme leading to a diploma in higher education in operating department practice, a course available at a number of universities around the UK. Some universities offer three-year degree programmes in operating department practice.

Experienced ODPs can take further training approved by the Royal College of Surgeons to work as surgical care practitioners. This enables them to undertake certain surgical procedures under the supervision of a consultant surgeon.

Skills required

  • Adaptability and the ability to think ahead
  • An appropriate sense of humour: respecting patients’ needs while working in a stressful environment
  • Confidence with the ability to inspire confidence from patients
  • Good communication skills and the ability to speak up on behalf of the patient

Continuous training and development are also a requirement and essential to the work of ODPs.