Increased Utilization of Physician Associates in the UK

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A June 2016 national survey by the British Medical Association highlighted a shortage of General Practitioners (GP) in the UK, finding that 17% of GP positions are unfilled. The shortage of GPs is compounded by an aging UK population requiring more healthcare resources. Physician Associates (PAs) help narrow the GP staffing gap and increase access to care for National Health Service (NHS) patients.

However, PAs in the UK are unable to practice to the full extent of their training, experience and ability because PAs are unregulated medical providers. Unregulated means there are regulatory barriers forbidding PAs to write prescriptions or order x-rays or labs for patients. As a regulated medical profession, those barriers could be removed and PAs would fully function as members of a physician-PA medical team.

Comments to Parliament from the British Medical Association such as “physician associates must not replace doctors” and Royal College of General Practitioners “skeptical of the intention behind expanding the PA profession” ring of trade unionist protectionism and ignore numerous studies that validate PAs value to healthcare teams.

A 2015 observational study of PAs and GPs in the UK show that for same-day walk-in appointments there was no significant difference between PAs and physicians in re-consultation ratios, rates of diagnostic tests ordered, or patient satisfaction.

The Royal College of Physicians and Faculty of Physician Associates regularly advocate for stronger physician-PA relationships in the NHS by educating GPs and others who are skeptical about the value of PAs. In 2017, NHS committed to spend £15m on training 1,000 GP physician associates by 2020 to address the shortage of primary healthcare providers.

Removing regulatory barriers that prevent PAs from practicing to the full extent of their training will allow NHS to narrow the GP staffing gap and improve access to care for NHS patients.

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2 Responses to “Increased Utilization of Physician Associates in the UK”

  1. yasthil23 Says:

    This is a very interesting topic as it highlights one of the most important dilemmas facing our aging population.

    Physician Assistants have been an integral part of the healthcare model in the USA for over half a century. The profession was developed to meet the increased demand for healthcare services and now there are over 100,000 Physician Assistants in the US who undertake a range of activities contributing directly to patient care. In the UK the equivalent is a Physician Associate and it is still an emerging field in England.

    Currently there is no regulatory body for Physician Associates in the U.K, although efforts are being made to move towards statutory regulation. I believe that in order to fully benefit from the expertise they have to offer, there has to be some sort of regulatory board to prevent medico legal litigation from halting the potential impact they could have on filling the gap in the healthcare services due to the current shortage of general practitioners. Further delays in the process could negatively impact the access and quality of healthcare received in the U.K.

  2. silveirangela Says:

    Shortages of primary care doctors are occurring globally; one means of meeting this demand has been the use of physician assistants (PAs). Introduced in the United States in the late 1960s to address doctor shortages, the PA movement has grown to over 75,000 providers in 2011 and spread to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Germany, Ghana, and South Africa.
    As of 2011, the US has approximately 75,000 clinically active PAs, and produces approximately 7,000 graduates annually; there are almost 1,000 in four other countries. It is very successful in the US and in the UK it is still an emerging field. If it follows in the example of the US, it will be highly successful.

    Their flexibility and generalist training permits them to function as providers under the supervision of a doctor in a variety of medical specialties and healthcare settings. With the increasing shortages of physicians in primary health care settings, there is a plea for help to handle primary care. Through effective collaboration and partnerships, Physicians and assistants can work together to better the availability and accessibility of health for all.

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