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GP practices set for admin assistants as education bosses approve pilots



Health Education England is funding the RCGP to develop a strategy and pilots for general practice ‘medical assistants’, an administrative role championed by the college to reduce GP workload by an estimated 11%.

Giving its response to a landmark review of GP recruitment at a board meeting today, HEE suggested that current healthcare assistants could undertake additional training to perform ‘patient sensitive’ administrative tasks.

Pulse revealed in July that the Primary Care Workforce Commission’s The future of primary care: creating teams for tomorrow, led by GP academic Professor Martin Roland, championed the use of alternative health professionals to relieve the 11% of GP time spent on administrative tasks.

And the college has been an early proponent of the ‘medical assistants’ model, with chair Dr Maureen Baker petitioning the Government last year to ‘urgently’ implement the new role as short-term support while practices struggle with an ongoing workforce crisis.

The draft response, approved at the meeting on Wednesday subject to minor modifications, states: ‘We will be piloting new roles, such as medical assistants, in collaboration with RCGP and other partners in order to determine whether such roles might reduce the administrative burden placed upon GPs and nurses.’

Speaking at the meeting, HEE medical director Professor Wendy Reid added: ‘There are some American models, and there are some models here where healthcare assistants have taken on quite significant, patient sensitive administration.

‘There’s a big piece of work to be done there, and we’ve started that. We’ve funded someone to work with us at the RCGP, because we fundamentally think this is about GPs defining what is needed.’

She added that this could involve healthcare assistants working towards care certificates to enable them to take on greater responsibilities.

Prof Reid also highlighted other areas where HEE is already acting on the report’s recommendations:

  • HEE agrees that greater use of physician associates (PAs), healthcare assistants, and paramedics in primary care can increase GP time with complex patients, and have enlisted St George’s Medical School principal Professor Peter Kopelman to review how PA training can be made primary care specific.
  • It is working with NHS England on how PAs would be employed, as HEE trains them to meet the 1,000 PAs by 2020 target set out in the ‘new deal ‘ for general practice.
  • The draft HEE response adds it are also evaluating ‘the potential for community paramedics to substitute for GPs in the assessment of urgent home visits and possibly repeat assessments of such patients that might also reduce admissions where the GP does not have capacity to monitor patients.’

In its response HEE agrees with the ‘principle of needing to increase recruitment and retention amongst general practitioners’ and notes it is reviewing GP training.

The RCGP were approached for comment but had not responded at time of publication.