BMA launches legal action against GMC over dangerous blurring of lines between doctors and physician associates

BMA Press release. 

Location: UK
Published: Monday 24 June 2024
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The BMA is launching legal action against the doctors’ regulator, the General Medical Council, over the way in which it plans to regulate physician and anaesthesia associates, in what the BMA says is the dangerous blurring of lines for patients between highly-skilled and experienced doctors, and assistant roles.

Following recent legislation, the GMC will become the regulator of physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) in December 2024.

The BMA has consistently made clear that physician and anaesthesia associates – who complete a two-year course rather than a five-year medical degree – need regulating, but that the GMC is not the right organisation to do this. By choosing the GMC as the regulator for PAs and AAs, the BMA says the Government is undermining and devaluing the medical profession, and confusing patients.

The GMC has been using the term “medical professionals” in its materials to describe all of its future registrants – both doctors and associates. This includes in Good Medical Practice, the key GMC guidance document for doctors, defining the standards of care and behaviour that are expected, which is used as a reference to determine fitness to practise.

The BMA is now launching a judicial review claim against the GMC over its use of this term, which the Association says should only ever be used to refer to qualified doctors.

Alongside the BMA, Anaesthetists United, an independent group of grassroots anaesthetists, are planning separate but complementary legal action, which relates to the lack of any national regulation of scope of practice for PAs and AAs, a vital issue which the GMC has studiously avoided. The BMA is liaising with Anaesthetists United about this and offers it whole-hearted support.

The BMA’s campaigning against the worrying expansion of physician associates and other associate roles comes amid increasing concerns around patient safety, illustrated by several tragic cases, including the death of 30-year-old Emily Chesterton, who died from a blood clot after being repeatedly misdiagnosed by a PA when she thought she had seen a doctor.

BMA council chair Professor Philip Banfield announced the launch of the judicial review claim at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast this morning (Monday). Commenting, Professor Banfield said:

“PAs are not doctors, and we have seen the tragic consequences of what happens when this is not made clear to patients. Everyone has the right to know who the healthcare professional they are seeing is and what they are qualified to do – and crucially, not to do.

“Doctors are ‘the medical profession’. To describe any other staff as medical professionals not only undermines doctors and the rigorous training journey they have been on, but also confuses patients, who rightly associate the two terms as one and the same.

“The central and solemn responsibility of the GMC is to protect the public from those who are not registered qualified doctors, pretending to be doctors. It has become increasingly clear that broadening the term ‘medical professionals’ to include those without medical degrees has had the effect of making this task far harder, when recent experience has now shown that this represents a dangerous blurring of this critical distinction.

“We have had enough of the Government and NHS leadership eroding our profession, and alongside Anaesthetists United, we are standing up for both doctors and patients to block this ill-thought-through project before it leads to more unintended patient harm.  It’s not too late to row back from this uncontrolled and ill-thought out experiment in dumbing down the medical skills and expertise available to patients.”

Dr Richard Marks, co-founder of Anaesthetists United, said:

“Doctors and their patients are united over their opposition to the outgoing government’s plans for replacing doctors with Associates.  Taking legal action seems to be the only way forward”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives. 

  1. Letter before action to the GMC attached