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Only six US physician associates recruited for practices despite £50k salary offer

Exclusive A scheme intended to recruit 200 experienced physician associates to the NHS from the US through offering a salary of £50,000 and generous benefits is unlikely to meet its target, its leaders have admitted.

The London trust leading the recruitment drive has said that the national target to recruit 200 physician associates (PAs) across primary and secondary care for the two-year role – which will see them taking on tasks such as conducting comprehensive physical exams and diagnosing and treating some illnesses and injuries – has only recruited 35 individuals, including only six in general practice.  

GPs said the scheme was ‘gimmicky’, and this scheme has shown the Government has no ‘real commitment to proper workforce development’.

The announcement comes after a drive to increase the presence of PAs in general practice, with Jeremy Hunt’s ‘new deal’ pledge of 1,000 PAs to work alongside GPs by 2020, and plans to expand the non-medical workforce in the 10 point plan for GP recruitment.

In August, Pulse revealed the scheme – called the National Physician Associate Expansion Programme (NPAEP) – had begun advertising for experienced candidates from America to work in the NHS, offering salaries of £50,000 a year, 33 days paid leave and a financial contribution for relocation.

Pulse has learnt from Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that 184 applications had been received by early November, with a handful of offers made after shortlisting and interviews.

A spokesperson clarified that to date (14 January), 35 provisional offers had been made with six candidates identified for work in general practice they added that the application stage had only recently closed, and selection was ongoing but it was not certain how many candidates would accept the offered position. 

They told Pulse: ’The NPAEP positions were advertised between 24 August 2015 to 7 January 2016 and the selection process for candidates is ongoing.

’To date, the programme has made 35 provisional offers. We do not know at this stage how many of these offers will be taken up. Six candidates are provisionally identified for GP/Primary care positions.’

A full update will be available in March, but the board papers conclude: ‘Progress will be reviewed with the Programme Board in January 2015. It is likely that NPAEP will continue to run, with smaller numbers than originally envisaged.’

BMA Council member and London GP, Dr Louise Irvine told Pulse: ’I don’t see what a physician associate can do that a good practice nurse or nurse practitioner couldn’t do. I think this is gimmicky.

She added: ‘I don’t think the Government’s shown any real commitment to proper workforce development, whether it be nurses, doctors or other health professionals..’

’It seems like a lot of money to be spending on people, for whom the role is very indeterminate.’

Physician associates are dependent practitioners are able to undertake delegated medical work, supervised by a qualified GP, such as obtaining medical histories, conducting comprehensive physical exams, requesting and interpreting tests, diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries, and advising on preventive health care.

The job application states candidates must have ‘significant clinical experience’ as a PA and/or completion of a post-graduate residency or fellowship program, as well as valid US or UK registration and evidence of CPD.

The National Physician Associate Expansion Programme

NPAEP director Dr Nick Jenkins

NPAEP director Dr Nick Jenkins

Source: Dr Nick Jenkins

NPAEP director Dr Nick Jenkins

The original advert aimed to recruit PAs across four regions: North West London; the East Midlands; Yorkshire, the Humber and Newcastle; and North West England.

This included general practice roles in Leicester – where the CCG has already invested £600,000 in recruiting ten PAs from America to work in general practice – as well as in GP practices in Sheffield and across seven London GP practices.

The expansion programme will run until the end of 2017 and NPAEP director Dr Nick Jenkins said he hoped it would show the benefits PAs can bring, and create roles for the first cohort of physician associates trained in newly expanded UK university postgraduate courses.

But with such small numbers opting to take the plunge and forge a place for the profession in the NHS, it’s unclear what roles will await UK PA graduates when they compelte their postgraduate training.