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RCGP petitions Government to create new 'medical assistant' role to relieve admin pressures on GPs

Exclusive The RCGP has petitioned ministers to urgently create a new ‘medical assistant’ role to support GPs, who could be trained within just three months, Pulse can reveal.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker told Pulse that the college had put the proposal to ministers in an official paper which, if piloted and proved successful, could see GPs gaining valuable support in the timeframe of just a quarter of a year. Dr Baker said the assistants would be ‘a cross between a healthcare assistant and a doctor’s PA’ which could provide a ‘short term injection of support’ for general practice.

The suggestions has come about as a result of talks involving the college, GPC and health ministers about short term solutions to alleviate pressures on practices while NHS managers try to tackle the GP recruitment and retention crisis.

Health Education England is now due to review proposals as part of their independent review to assess gaps in the GP workforce, announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week.

It comes as GP access has already become a key election gambit ahead of next year’s national vote, with Labour promising to introduce a ‘mansion tax’ to pay for 8,000 new GPs and the Tories promising new investment to roll out seven-day GP opening.

Dr Baker told Pulse: ‘I think that it is well worth exploring new roles in general practice, in particular I would like to see testing out of the model of medical assistants.’

‘These are not physician’s assistants, these are – I suppose – a cross between a healthcare assistant and a doctor’s PA, and these roles are much more doctor facing.’

‘So the purpose of this role is to support the doctor and to help make their working day more reasonable, tolerable, to lift off a lot of the burden of administration for instance, and just to be doing tasks which help make the doctor’s time more productive.’

‘[If it’s effective] we’re talking about people that we could train up in three or four months, not many years, and that might give a short term injection of support into general practice work force.’

Dr Baker added: ‘We’ve put together a proposal, to set out this role, and pilot this role in a number of practices. We have sent that to ministers and we’ll wait and hear whether there’s any funding, and willingness to progress with this.’

The GPC, who have also formed part of discussions, said that the assistants would be ‘no magic bullet’ but urged the Government to back proposals by providing funding for their training and premises to house them.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘There is no magic bullet and none of this–and I can’t emphasize this enough – will replace the need for more GPs, this should not be considered as a cheap option to recruiting more GPs.

‘However, in tandem to the time it will take to recruit new GPs, certainly as a short term measure, we believe that having an expansion of practice staff to support practices – which could include medical assistants to health care assistants, this would be of assistance.’

‘The elephant in the room of all of this is premises. We know from our own survey that half of practices don’t have the space to house any more staff. They’re already bursting at the seams.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said the proposals would be looked at as part of the HEE review, adding: ‘We want to ensure we give GPs the support they need to deliver the best care for patients. We’ve asked Health Education England to set up an independent review looking at future demand and different skill mixes in primary care to ensure we have better evidence on what the right level of staffing is in general practice.’

It comes as a Pulse survey revealed that one in ten GP partnership positions have been left vacant for more than a year, and a quarter have been vacant for over six months.

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Readers' comments (57)

  • I think those that are for this idea is ignoring the glaringly obvious problem.

    WHO will be accountable for their action?

    I give you an answer - you see, there is this thing called named GP which Jeremy Hunt would like to have for all patients in 6/12. So, if a mistake is made, even by someone else, I would be accountable.

    Not sure if the PM above is a real PM but you'd have to realize GP partners are one of the cheapest commodity in medicine. Any work not done within in the working time is done by a partner for (guess how much?) FREE! If I was to employ someone to do this, either DoH will have to cough up about £8-10/hr (inc pension contribution etc) for every GP that works or I'm expected to take a pay cut. For me, as a full time partner working 50+hrs/week, that's £18000/year (£8x50hrsx45weeks).

    And that's paying not much more then minimum wage. If you expect to attract bright talented people on this kind of wage then good luck.

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  • Sorry above comment was for PM 12:52

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  • These people (RCGP/BMA) need to be held to account by us the members - they are after all letting us down (though no need to get quite so personal)
    @11.43 - exactly my thoughts - what will they do?
    What we need is more GPs - and to retain the existing ones - that should be the BMAs/RCGPs focus, not pandering to the government's agenda

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  • It amazes me that even our own (forget the daily mail and other ignorants out there) think anyone with a minimal of training can do our jobs. We are being sold short by all and sundry and when our own "leaders" start, then there really is very little time left for General practice. Rest in Peace. You were good while you lasted.

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  • Do the RCGP / BMA work for the government? Want knighthoods or are they Tory or Labour Party members?

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  • I guess I mean "any conflicts of interest?"

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  • Look up hansard for the Medical Act 1858.
    The discussion centres not only on totally unqualified performers but also prohibits the routine use of "physician assistant" by trained physicians.
    Though welcome in terms of standardising achievement and professional status it did mean we became a profession without an internal "clerk" permanant grade which compares more with prtofessional footballer than legal profession.
    May I have footballers wages please?

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  • The idea is idiotic, dangerous, and yet again fails to deal with the urgent need to control INAPPROPRIATE DEMAND. See www.resilientGP.org for proper ideas how to fight this, and fight back. The RCGP are not going to deliver on this.

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  • The problems with GPland is excessive work everyday based on list size, falling pay, complaints and of course, the Health Minister himself constantly berating GPs and imposing Contracts accompanied by his hired help The Daily Planet.
    We cannot fix all these things, so General Practice is finished, like Peverly stated about himself.
    So let it be. If this nation cannot understand the wonderful No. 1 health care system they have as evinced by The Commonwealth fund study, they do not deserve it in the first place.

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  • I already have a secretary, admin and reception staff and health care assistants working in the practice. What new skills is a 3/12 trained person going to add to above who have been in post for years! I need to see my patient's blood tests and letters otherwise what was the point in arranging these things in the first place.
    I cannot believe the RCGP came up with this nonsense, or are they propagating it for Hunt and if so WHY?

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