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Physician associates 'unlikely to fill essential workforce gaps' in near future

Physician associates are unlikely to provide an ‘essential’ role in filling workforce gaps in the NHS in the near future, and funding could be better spent on existing roles, a new report has concluded. 

The Health Foundation report – Staffing matters; funding counts  – warns that ‘headline grabbing’ new roles, such as Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to recruit 1,000 physician associates to general practice by 2020, ‘will not make a substantial impact in the next few years’.

The Health Foundation also adds that the decision to leave the EU is likely to exacerbate workforce issues by making it harder to retain European staff and stretching finances further. 

The report goes on to claim that, despite a commitment to increase the number of PA training places by more than 200% in 2016/17, NHS data shows ‘only 11 full-time equivalent PAs’ were working in general practice last year.

It states: ‘Given the current funding constraints on any workforce expansion, the established existence of the nurse practitioner role, and continued regulatory barriers on full effectiveness, it seems unlikely that the PA role will become widespread and provide ‘essential’ gap filling any time soon.’

The report also notes that initiatives to rapidly address the workforce crisis – including schemes to recruit trained GPs from abroad are only a ‘sticking plaster’ on the deep-seated and systemic problems in the NHS.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The recent decision for the UK to leave the EU will create additional challenges – both in terms of finances and the ability to attract and retain valuable European staff.

‘We urgently need a fully aligned and coordinated national approach to workforce policy and planning, underpinned by greater predictability on funding.’

Readers' comments (6)

  • Well I never....

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  • Yes it is a shocker!

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  • Do PAs have to pass AKT or CSA? Is RCGP sleeping?

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  • In other news, a religious leader residing in Rome has been accused of being a Catholic and a large mammal has been witnessed defecating in the woods.

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  • PM 2 04
    Spot on !!

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  • I'ma PA in the US. I've worked as a GP and in Orthopedic specialty for 5 years and I would love to come work in the UK!
    There are some barriers to doing so:
    Finances: I'd like to say that helping people is enough but, with the equivalent of 160,000 pounds in student debt, that isn't a reality for me (this is a normal debt range for PA student debt in the US).
    While the NHS salary offerings are much lower than here, a decreased tax incentive could increase the possibility that we could afford to make the move.
    Acceptance: A recent article in The Pulse indicates that only 30% of UK MDs are willing to hire us.
    There isn't much WE can do about that but the coverage won't improve if we can't get hired and US PAs can't come over without a job offer.

    One other point to make. We have had PAs for more than 40 years. There are ~160k practicing mid-levels and ~85k are in GP. We still have a 90k shortage of providers.

    Rome was not built in a day.

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