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Physician associates ‘unlikely to fill essential workforce gaps’ in near future

Physician associates are unlikely to provide an ‘essential’ role in filling workforce gaps in the NHS in the near future, and funding could be better spent on existing roles, a new report has concluded. 

The Health Foundation report – Staffing matters; funding counts  – warns that ‘headline grabbing’ new roles, such as Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to recruit 1,000 physician associates to general practice by 2020, ‘will not make a substantial impact in the next few years’.

The Health Foundation also adds that the decision to leave the EU is likely to exacerbate workforce issues by making it harder to retain European staff and stretching finances further. 

The report goes on to claim that, despite a commitment to increase the number of PA training places by more than 200% in 2016/17, NHS data shows ‘only 11 full-time equivalent PAs’ were working in general practice last year.

It states: ‘Given the current funding constraints on any workforce expansion, the established existence of the nurse practitioner role, and continued regulatory barriers on full effectiveness, it seems unlikely that the PA role will become widespread and provide ‘essential’ gap filling any time soon.’

The report also notes that initiatives to rapidly address the workforce crisis – including schemes to recruit trained GPs from abroad are only a ‘sticking plaster’ on the deep-seated and systemic problems in the NHS.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The recent decision for the UK to leave the EU will create additional challenges – both in terms of finances and the ability to attract and retain valuable European staff.

‘We urgently need a fully aligned and coordinated national approach to workforce policy and planning, underpinned by greater predictability on funding.’