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Physician associate training places to expand by 220% next year

Education bosses will make a major move to expand the primary care workforce this year by radically boosting the number of physician associate training places.

Pulse has learnt that Health Education England will commission 657 physician associate training places for next year’s intake, an increase of 220%.

As part of his ‘new deal’ for general practice Jeremy Hunt pledged 1,000 physician associates to be working in general practice by 2020 alongside 4,000 other healthcare professionals.

PAs take two years to train and this intake will be ready just in time to meet this target, although GP leaders point out that there is no guarantee that they will end up working in general practice.

Health Education England has undertaken a national drive to expand the number of universities offering the two year postgraduate course in a bid to deliver thousands more PAs to work in the NHS.

Other objectives set out in HEE’s plan for 2016/17 include the roll-out of £20k incentive payments which Pulse revealed are being offered to attract prospective GPs to train in the most under-recruited areas.

And the development of new training hubs for GPs and their staff to share best practice, one of the objectives of the ten-point plan for GP workforce.

A HEE spokesperson told Pulse: 'The physician associate (PA) programme is currently undergoing expansion to meet the Secretary of State’s mandate of achieving 1,000 PAs in primary care by 2020.

'It is being expanded across a number of higher education institutions who are offering the programme as well as supporting planning to increase the number of students. Health Education England is working in partnership with NHS England and other stakeholders to create capacity within the job market.'

But GP leaders warned that the vast majority of PAs take up posts in hospitals and it was essential that the new PA trainees were trained in a general practice setting.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC’s Education, Training and Workforce subcommittee, told Pulse: ‘There will be some GPs in some practices who will be keen on any help and will want PAs, and there will be some who don’t necessarily want to work with PAs.

‘For those who want PAs, who need any kind of resource available, we need to make sure these PAs are trained in a general practice setting.’

But Dr Kasaraneni added that simply introducing these new professions to general practice wouldn’t resolve the ‘huge, huge, shortfalls in GP workforce.’

What is a physician associate?

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In the UK, there are roughly 200 PAs working predominately in hospitals and a newly qualified PA is classed at Band 7, rising to Band 8a with five years’ experience and a relevant master’s degree.

There is currently no formal regulation of PAs, although the DH has confirmed they are looking at introducing prescribing powers for PAs in future, alongside formal regulation.

PA indemnity is typically be funded by their employer, one practice employing two PAs told a Pulse Live event they pay £2,400 for their junior staff member, though speculated this could increase in future.

The NHS began advertising for 200 US physician associates, offering a £50k salary plus benefits as part of a bid to develop the role of PAs while UK professionals were trained. But Pulse revealed last month that only 35 offers had been made, with just 6 candidates for general practice.

Readers' comments (35)

  • Mr Mephisto

    Another stupid politician making another stupid promise that he cannot deliver. Following last years abysmal failure in recruiting Physician Associates form the US what makes Mr Hunt think that he is going to have any more success this time around? Perhaps he may attract some disillusioned GP's if he is offers similar money to locum work with a lot less stress and responsibility.

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  • You promised 5000 GP's Jeremy.

    Not 4000 and 1000 PA's (soon to be 3000 GP's, 1000 pharmacists and 1000 PA's).

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  • There are so many trained doctors from abroad who did not pass plan
    It is worth training these doctors and employing them rather than PA

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  • My wife works as a trainee in a underserved area of Scotland - her health board held a meeting introducing the new PAs, who stated that they could function to the level between FY1-ST7. Needless to say, this didn't ingratiate themselves to the docs. When asked who was responsible for training the PAs, the doctors were told that they were. So as well as being directly responsible for approving all management plans, tests and prescribing, they're also expected to train them. When we don't even get time to teach and supervise our own juniors, why should we invest time in those being primed to cheaply usurp us? And how can you work at the level of an ST7 without ever having prescribed?

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  • I work as an ANP/Prescriber with a background in ED/Pre Hospital & Primary care. This knowledge built up over 20+ years in the military and NHS service. They are offering PA £50k and the training pipeline is 2 years compared with my 5years uni + 1yr full time medical trg in the military (+ numerous ALS/Trauma training etc). Why would they not just create a better training pipeline from NP/PP to become advanced level clinicians in Primary Care? Oh and offer a better salary instead of expecting Adv Practitioner output for basic nursing pay!

    As a sideline re insurance. As an ANP/Prescriber my insurance this year was several thousand pounds + £2.5k excess per claim. The insurance industry isn't behind supporting Advanced Practice and I feel this would prevent some Part-Time clinicians working as it isn't financially viable. All the hurdles are what makes us clinicians think about other options!

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  • This could be another 111 type fiasco. A colossal white elephant, that provides a few benefits but also some problems.

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  • Well, this is the future...get cheap labour. There is no money left and things can only get worse for doctors. We are possibly the only country in the world where salaries for doctors is going down every year. My experience of friends from India is that 10 years ago doctors were paid approximately 10 times more here in UK. Since then average salary of a doctor has increased 3 times in India. Here, our salaries are going down every year. They are training more and more doctors in Middle East/Asia. Doctors who earn well are respected there. Here, we are working in extremely stressful conditions. 10 minute consultations, risk of litigation, less & less money, CQC, Appraisal etc etc. It is a global world & I have a feeling that we are going a see a massive exodus of doctors to Oz, Canada & even Asia. At the end of the day we all want a good income & better lifestyle. Government is aware of what's happening, so they are getting PAs ready for future. In the coming years, GP work would be taken over by PAs.

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  • Let me enlighten you naysayers regarding the PA profession/education. The two year training is on a post graduate level. PA students have obtained a 4 year science degree prior to admission to the programme. During those two years they are undergoing ninety weeks of study which combines the theoretical and scientific basis of medicine with clinical experience. They then take a national exam and must undergo a re-certification assessment every 6 years and well as maintain CPD hours. They have worked hard for their degree, love what they do and deserve some respect

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  • Can GP partners apply? Suspect monthly drawing will be similar

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  • Why not just employ 3rd year medical students? With all of their fantastic skills and knowledge I'm sure that they can easily replace any GP.

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