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Storm over new grade of clinicians

Government plans to call a new grade of clinicians 'medical care practitioners' have come under fire from organisations across the NHS.

Responses to a Department of Health consultation have demanded the US title on which the grade is based – physician assistant – be used instead.

The department asked for comments on its plans to introduce up to 3,000 medical care practitioners into practices as a way of easing GP shortages.

After a two-year training programme, the practitioners would be able to diagnose, prescribe and offer patient education, counselling and health promotion.

But GPs have accused the Government of misleading the public into thinking the new staff were medically qualified.

Gloucestershire LMC said the practitioners were being given too much responsibility. Dr Philip Fielding, a GP in Cheltenham who helped draw up the LMC's response, said: 'This is the equivalent of employing an overseas army of cheap labour.'

But Dr Ian Walton, a GP in Dudley, West Midlands, who was involved in the first UK pilot of physician assistants, said: '50,000 physicians in the States have proved they can prescribe sensibly when trained properly.'

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