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Physician associates – do they have a role?

Portfolio politics

Louise Newson

01 September 2014

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Physician_Associate_shutterstock_35974027.jpgRecently there have been articles in the press about the introduction of “physician associates” who will soon be treating patients. These people will have had two years of training and will assist doctors in both surgeries and in emergency wards. Apparently, these people will be able to examine patients, order tests, admit and discharge patients from hospital and decide on treatment. They will not need to be registered with the GMC.

These roles are to be created to reduce the pressure on doctors and enable doctors to focus on more complex cases. Although this could potentially be very advantageous there are some concerns that they will have too much responsibility with too little training and that they will be used to save money as their wages will be less than doctors.

There is also concern that hospital managers may become reliant upon these physician associates to increase staff numbers on their wards and also be used in place of registered nurses and doctors.

Interestingly, I read a letter in the BMJ from 2002 which stated that “recruitment of general practitioners is at crisis point” and that “the creation of physician assistants could help reverse this situation”.

However, there are currently only around 200 physician associates working for the NHS and the Department of Health believes they are having little impact on doctors' workloads. I wonder whether it will take another 12 years before we notice any positive impact of physician assistants reducing our workload?

Author

Louise Newson

Louise is a part-time GP in Solihull, as well as a writer for numerous medical publications, including www.patient.co.uk. She is an Editor and Reviewer for e-learning courses for the RCGP. She is an Editor for Geriatric Medicine journal and the British Journal of Family Medicine. Louise has contributed to various healthcare articles in many different newspapers and magazines and is the spokesperson for The Information Standard. She has also done television and radio work. Louise is a medical consultant for Maverick TV and has participated regularly in ‘Embarrassing Bodies Live from the Clinic’. Louise has three young children and is married to a consultant urological surgeon. Although her spare time is limited she enjoys practising ashtanga yoga regularly and loves road cycling – she has raised over £2K for a local charity, Molly Olly Wishes by competing in a 120km cycle ride!
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