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GMC ready to regulate physician associates to ‘bolster workforce’

The GMC has said that it is ‘best placed’ to take on the role of regulator for physician associates, but called for government funding to set up the regulation.

In its response to the Department of Health consultation on Regulation of Medical Associate Professions in the UK, the GMC argued that its ‘current regulatory work and remit in relation to doctors, and discussions with key stakeholders, have led us to conclude that there is a compelling case that can be made for the GMC to regulate physician associates’.

It added that regulation could ’dramatically strengthen health services while ensuring patient safety’.

The GMC said it would be prepared to take on the role of regulator, but stressed that it is ‘clear that doctors should not subsidise the costs of set up or the ongoing regulation.’

It called for the Government to provide transitional funding to cover setting-up costs, and said that ongoing costs would be borne by the GMC as an ‘independent regulator’, through collection of an annual retention fee from the physician associates.

The DH consultation, launched in early October, proposed statutory regulation for physician associates after a risk assessment found there was a potentially high risk of harm to patients based on the responsibilities of the role and their high level of interaction with patients. 

The GMC went further by recommending that physician associates should have prescribing rights in due course.

Its consultation response said: ‘This would alleviate pressures on doctors and other professionals with prescribing rights, so that an individual professional’s skill sets are best utilised.

‘It would enable doctors to focus on more complex, higher-risk patient needs.’

Charlie Massey, GMC chief executive, said: ‘Our health services must be dynamic to meet the changing needs of patients and we believe a range of new professionals with varied skillsets must be part of the solution.

‘It’s down to the four UK governments to decide which of these roles should be regulated and by whom.

‘However, as physician associates work closely with doctors, we believe there is a strong argument that we should accept responsibility for them. We are in a good place to do this, providing the Government gives us funding and the underlying legislation is fit enough for modern healthcare.’

He added that the GMC would stay ’focused on its reforms aimed at improving doctors’ professional lives and keeping the cost of registration as low as possible’.

Jeannie Watkins, president of the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, which currently oversees and administers the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register, welcomed the GMC response.

She said: ‘The GMC has a long history and wealth of experience in regulating doctors, and understands the standards required both educationally and professionally to deliver safe, competent high-quality medical care to patients.

‘Regulation from the GMC would help provide professional credibility and inspire confidence in both our healthcare colleagues and most importantly patients.’

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the BMA supports the need for statutory regulation of physician associates to ensure there is the ‘necessary competence, accountability and safety of care’ provided by these healthcare professionals.

He added: ‘We believe, however, that that the regulation of doctors should be separate from that of other healthcare workers and providers.

‘This is to ensure that the complexities of the medical profession, which has different training structures, career routes and responsibilities to other professions are adequately recognised and taken into account.’

The Health and Care Professions Council in its response to the consultation expressed support for statutory regulation of physician associates and said that ’as a multi-professional regulator we would be willing to act as regulator if asked’.

The Government has committed to recruit 1,000 physician associates to general practice by 2020. Pulse reported that Health Education England is recruiting physician ‘GP ambassadors’ to promote and develop their role in practices, in line with the GP Forward View.

The Department of Health is expected to report on the outcome of its consultation in 2018. Interested parties have until Friday 22 December 2017 to respond.