The health secretary has announced there will be 1,000 new physicians associates working in general practice by 2020 as part of the ‘new deal’ to alleviate the GP workforce crisis.
Delivering the speech in South London today, Jeremy Hunt also said community pharmacy would be given £7.5m through the £1bn announced in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement to help provide extended hours working in practices.
As Pulse has already reported, the new deal will include a £10m fund for struggling practices, which will provide advice and support for practices to stave off closure, as well as a number of measures already announced as part of NHS England’s ‘ten-point plan’ to increase the GP workforce.
The health secretary said that the profession was a ‘hamster wheel’ for GPs, and that the workload crisis had to be addressed, but he reiterated any investment would be in return for a move to a seven-day service.
As part of efforts to tackle workload, he announced there would be 1,000 new physician associate roles by 2020 – the first concrete target given by the Government for the new role.
Pulse has reported that one CCG has already started recruiting them from the US in a bid to address workforce issues.
However, the scheme has been criticised by some GPs, who warn that they are not a replacement for GPs, and will not have the same expertise.
But Mr Hunt said that the Government is looking to push on with plans to train more physician associates.
He said: ‘Innovation in the workforce skill mix will be vital to ensure GPs are supported in their work by other practitioners.
‘I have already announced pilots for new physicians associates, but today I can announce that those pilots plan to ensure 1,000 physicians’ associates will be available to work in general practice by September 2020.’
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These will be part of the 5,000 extra practice staff, in addition to the pledge made in the Conservatives’ manifesto for 5,000 new GPs overall.
Mr Hunt said that these new practice staff will also include community pharmacists.
He spoke of a pilot in Brighton which was able to use pharmacists to help offer evening and weekend access, which gave pharmacists ‘equal access’ to GP records.
He said: ‘I can today announce that £7.5m of the primary care infrastructure fund for this year will be used to support community pharmacists with training and appropriate tools.’
Alongside this, he announced a range of measures to tackle workforce, many of which were in the ten-point plan. They included:
- NHS England releasing statistics on clinical staffing levels in each practice today;
- A marketing campaign led by NHS England and the RCGP to attract medical graduates to the profession;
- A returners scheme, which has already attracted 50 GPs back to English general practice;
- A scheme to retain GPs nearing retirement age, which is being worked on with the BMA;
- A pre-GP year, which he claimed had been a success in the West Midlands.