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Physician associate scheme needs prolonged investment, say doctors leaders

GPs talking out of focus

General practice needs ‘sustained and substantial resources’ if multi-specialist community teams bolstered by physician associates are to improve patient care, doctors leaders have warned.

It comes as the Government has revealed it will spend £15m training PAs (physician associates) – with the aim of recruiting 1,000 to work in general practice in the next ‘few years’.

Each graduate will cost £9,000 in annual course fees and receive a £6,000 maintenance bursary, meaning the scheme will cost more than £15m in total.

However, the training scheme does not tie graduate PAs into seeking employment in GP practices or primary care settings.

Unless GP Forward View commitments are implemented swiftly, including delivery of resources, training and education and organisational development support to practices, doctors leaders have warned that many PAs may continue to choose to work in hospitals instead.

More resource in the medium to longer term will also be needed if the ambition is to make a sustained and positive difference to patient care in general practice.


Effective recruitment

BMA deputy general practice committee chair Richard Vautrey said: ‘Physician associates may be able to provide valuable care as part of a wider healthcare team in a GP practice, especially at a time when there is a national shortage of GPs and incredible workload pressures on local services.

‘However, the allocated funding for the PA training and education programme will need to be followed by significant further investment in the near future.

'This will enable GP practices to recruit and embed PAs into their services and create a significant expansion in the number of PAs within general practice. Many of the PAs in training are likely to go straight into hospital posts rather than GP services.

'If the target of recruiting 1,000 PAs in the next few years is to be achieved NHS England will need to work quickly and closely with the BMA, the Royal college of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians and other major stakeholders to ensure infrastructure is established and resources reach frontline primary care services without delay.

‘If we are to make a real difference to patient services, the Government must continue to commit to sustained and substantial resources to enable the creation of multi-specialist teams throughout general practice.’

To satisfy health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans for 1,000 more PAs in general practice HEE (Health Education England) commissioned 657 training places for 2016/17 – an increase of 220 per cent from the previous year. Previously just two centres offered PA studies courses but that number has now risen to 28.

An HEE spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased there is a real appetite for expanding the PA programme, there are 28 courses now compared to two four years ago. This illustrated how the work HEE has done with partners, local NHS trusts and primary care providers has helped to stimulate interest in the profession. We plan to complete the work on future funding arrangements in the new year.’

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