NHS plans rapid expansion of 'doctor's assistant' jobs

Hospital ward Image copyright SPL

The NHS is to rapidly expand the number of people in "doctor's assistant" roles.

Physician associates are usually science graduates who have two years of intense training.

However, some concern has been raised that the more junior posts will be used to replace more expensive doctors, damaging care.

The Department of Health said physician associates allow busy doctors to spend more time with patients.

The assistants have been working in the NHS for the past decade and around 200 are employed at the moment.

Many have previously worked as nurses or paramedics. They can take a patient's history, make a simple diagnosis or do an examination, but cannot prescribe drugs, order X-rays or work without doctor supervision.

Raised concerns

The government wants to see more recruits and the number of training places is to be doubled to 225.

There are currently 105 training places on courses in Aberdeen, Birmingham and London.

Three further schemes will be set up in Plymouth, Wolverhampton and Worcester and Birmingham.

But the Patients Association has raised concerns that hospitals will become more reliant on physician associates because they are paid less.

Dr Mark Porter, who chairs the British Medical Association council, said: "Physician assistants can be a valued part of the NHS and, as long as the scope of what they do is clear, they can provide an intermediate level of care and help reduce workload pressures.

"Only doctors can provide certain types of care so the government needs to ensure that standards won't be affected by these changes."

He added that the roles must not damage the training of junior doctors.

'Strict supervision'

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "There are already physician associates in the NHS, supporting busy doctors to spend more time with patients, not replace them.

"They can carry out clearly defined duties, but have to be under strict supervision of a doctor at all times.

"Many physician associates will already be trained physiotherapists, nurses or paramedics, and will have two years of intensive training on top of that."

There will be further plans to expand numbers next year. It will make the NHS look more like the US system, where there are more than 80,000 physician associates.

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