The Government has launched a long-awaited consultation to expand the role of physician associates (PAs), with proposals to ‘relieve pressure on GPs and improve access to services.’
A new consultation was launched today seeking views on draft legislation to provide the GMC with powers to regulate PAs and anaesthesia associates for the first time.
Ministers said that opportunities could be explored for PAs to help relieve pressure on GPs, including extending prescribing responsibilities to PAs, to free up clinician time so they can focus on seeing patients and boosting the number of appointments.
The Government said that these professions already support doctors and surgeons in providing medical care and this regulation will ‘enable them to play an increasingly important part’ in supporting the workforce to deliver medical care.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I want all parts of modern, multi-skilled healthcare teams to able to work to their full potential.
‘That’s why we’re modernising out of date regulatory legislation to harness the full potential of roles such as physician and anaesthesia associates to provide the highest quality care for patients and relieve pressure on the NHS.
‘This could also open the door to expanding prescribing powers, helping free up GPs, improve access to appointments and reduce pressure on hospitals.’
The Government’s ambition is to increase training places for PAs and AAs, with 1,000 PAs being trained each year from 2023/24 and 250 AAs being trained each year from 2024/25.
The consultation will be open until 11:45pm on 16 May, with healthcare professionals, organisations and members of the public are encouraged to respond.
PAs are part of ARRS and can perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and develop treatment management plans, under the supervision of doctors.
AAs generally work in hospitals and emergency environments and provide care for patients before, during and after their operation or procedure, including taking a history, performing physical examinations, and using diagnostic data to identify relevant problems.
Meanwhile, GPs are still waiting for the Government to launch an expected consultation on regulation reform that should enable swifter resolution of fitness-to-practise investigations, as well as quashing the GMC’s powers to appeal FTP decisions.
What does the consultation include?
The wider proposals also include:
- Streamlining the system to allow regulatory bodies to update and change their day-to-day regulatory processes and standards, without needing the approval of Parliament or the Privy Council, allowing them to respond to changes quickly.
- Modernising and improving registration and regulatory processes to enable professions to respond to emerging healthcare challenges more quickly and ensure patients can continue accessing high quality services, confident they are provided by practitioners who are fit to practice. For example, during the Covid pandemic, regulators wanted to introduce remote fitness to practise hearings to boost workforce numbers, but this required to enable regulators to open emergency registers, slowing down the process.
- Ensuring consistent powers for each of the healthcare professional regulators as there is currently variation in the powers regulators have available. This means regulators across different professions will be working with similar powers, presenting opportunities for collaboration and sharing of best practice, ultimately aimed at improving patient safety and outcomes.