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?
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.