In order to evaluate the possible role of the cuffed oropharyngeal airway during cardiopulmonary resuscitation, we compared its use by non-anaesthetists with the bag-valve-facemask technique of providing ventilation. A group of anaesthetic nurses and operating department practitioners were asked to manually ventilate the lungs of 40 patients undergoing elective surgery following the induction of general anaesthesia with neuromuscular blockade. Ventilation was first attempted using the bag-valve-facemask technique and then using the appropriate size cuffed oropharyngeal airway and self-inflating bag. Ventilation was clinically adequate in 32/40 (80%) patients using the bag-valve-facemask and in 38/40 (95%) patients using the cuffed oropharyngeal airway. Measured expired tidal volumes were greater using the cuffed oropharyngeal airway than with bag-valve-facemask ventilation in two-thirds of patients, despite a higher incidence of audible air leak. Successful ventilation was achieved using the cuffed oropharyngeal airway in seven of the eight patients in whom bag-valve-facemask ventilation was inadequate. The cuffed oropharyngeal airway may offer an effective method of providing ventilation during cardiopulmonary resuscitation by non-anaesthetic hospital staff, particularly when attempted ventilation using a bag-valve-facemask technique is proving ineffective.