GP administration assistants are being piloted in four parts of the country to test whether they can play a role in relieving the bureaucratic burden of clinical correspondence and day-to-day tasks.
Health Education England (HEE) has announced that the new role, to be known as either a ‘GP assistant’ or ‘medical assistant’, will be tested in GP practices in the North West and North of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Central and East London.
The role was put forward by the RCGP in 2014, with former chair Dr Maureen Baker proposing they should be a mix between a healthcare assistant and a personal assistant who could help make GPs’ time more productive.
The College said one strength of the role was that they could be trained quickly to relieve the acute pressures in general practice, and their recommendation was backed in a major national workforce report in 2015.
Despite this, and the introduction of the staff grade being trailed in last year’s £2.4bn general practice rescue package the GP Forward View, it has taken until 2017 for pilots to come under way.
An update to the HEE board, which met earlier in the week, said the main aim of the pilots will be to test whether there is demand for the role, and what responsibilities the assistants should have.
It added that there was still ‘uncertainty about the definition of the role and scope of its practice’, but suggested candidates could be trained through apprenticeship programmes.
The board paper said: ‘HEE has begun a pilot of the GP/Medical Assistant role through local offices in the North West, North, Central and East London and Yorkshire and Humber.
‘HEE’s “proof of concept” pilots are designated for the non-clinical role known as the “Medical Assistant” or “GP Assistant” and designed to understand the value of the role in supporting with the administration burden in general practice.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, told Pulse: ‘The College has long called for a pilot of medical assistants. Given the success of these roles in other countries, we are keen to see how the role translates in the UK and we’ll be monitoring these pilot sites closely.’
‘GPs and our teams are under intense pressures… introducing medical assistants should support some GPs to manage the administrative burden they face on a daily basis, and free up their time to focus on frontline patient care.’
She added that the pilots had been one of the commitments in last year’s GP Forward View but it was now important the other commitments, including £2.4bn in funding, were also pushed forward.
In 2015 Jeremy Hunt pledged to train 5,000 additional healthcare professionals to support GPs, and this included more nurses, pharmacists, and physician associates – clinically trained graduates who practice under GP supervision.
The GP assistant role comes after HEE launched its nursing associate role, which has currently recruited 2,000 candidates to the two year training course. The training includes exposure to general practice and nursing associates have the option to later train as a fully registered nurse.