Exclusive The RCGP has petitioned ministers to urgently create a new ‘medical assistant’ role to support GPs, who could be trained within just three months, Pulse can reveal.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker told Pulse that the college had put the proposal to ministers in an official paper which, if piloted and proved successful, could see GPs gaining valuable support in the timeframe of just a quarter of a year. Dr Baker said the assistants would be ‘a cross between a healthcare assistant and a doctor’s PA’ which could provide a ‘short term injection of support’ for general practice.
The suggestions has come about as a result of talks involving the college, GPC and health ministers about short term solutions to alleviate pressures on practices while NHS managers try to tackle the GP recruitment and retention crisis.
Health Education England is now due to review proposals as part of their independent review to assess gaps in the GP workforce, announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week.
It comes as GP access has already become a key election gambit ahead of next year’s national vote, with Labour promising to introduce a ‘mansion tax’ to pay for 8,000 new GPs and the Tories promising new investment to roll out seven-day GP opening.
Dr Baker told Pulse: ‘I think that it is well worth exploring new roles in general practice, in particular I would like to see testing out of the model of medical assistants.’
‘These are not physician’s assistants, these are – I suppose – a cross between a healthcare assistant and a doctor’s PA, and these roles are much more doctor facing.’
‘So the purpose of this role is to support the doctor and to help make their working day more reasonable, tolerable, to lift off a lot of the burden of administration for instance, and just to be doing tasks which help make the doctor’s time more productive.’
‘[If it’s effective] we’re talking about people that we could train up in three or four months, not many years, and that might give a short term injection of support into general practice work force.’
Dr Baker added: ‘We’ve put together a proposal, to set out this role, and pilot this role in a number of practices. We have sent that to ministers and we’ll wait and hear whether there’s any funding, and willingness to progress with this.’
The GPC, who have also formed part of discussions, said that the assistants would be ‘no magic bullet’ but urged the Government to back proposals by providing funding for their training and premises to house them.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘There is no magic bullet and none of this–and I can’t emphasize this enough – will replace the need for more GPs, this should not be considered as a cheap option to recruiting more GPs.
‘However, in tandem to the time it will take to recruit new GPs, certainly as a short term measure, we believe that having an expansion of practice staff to support practices – which could include medical assistants to health care assistants, this would be of assistance.’
‘The elephant in the room of all of this is premises. We know from our own survey that half of practices don’t have the space to house any more staff. They’re already bursting at the seams.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said the proposals would be looked at as part of the HEE review, adding: ‘We want to ensure we give GPs the support they need to deliver the best care for patients. We’ve asked Health Education England to set up an independent review looking at future demand and different skill mixes in primary care to ensure we have better evidence on what the right level of staffing is in general practice.’
It comes as a Pulse survey revealed that one in ten GP partnership positions have been left vacant for more than a year, and a quarter have been vacant for over six months.