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GP federation hopes to ease workforce woes with US physician associates

NHS leaders in Suffolk are planning to bring across a dozen physician associates from the US in a bid to reduce pressure on local GPs.

NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and NHS West Suffolk CCG are hoping to have 12 PAs in place by 2022.

They will be permanent roles and hired into NHS pay band 7 (£31,696 – £41,787), working with practices in the Suffolk GP Federation.

Although not medically qualified doctors and not yet regulated, PAs can assist with tasks such as taking a patient’s history, performing a physical examination and analysing test results. They still have to work under the supervision of a GP, who remains the responsible clinician.

Amanda Lyes, chief corporate services officer for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and NHS West Suffolk CCG, said the move comes as ’locally and nationally there is an ongoing issue with the recruitment of GPs’.

She added: ‘To address these challenges, we need to be creative in how we recruit and how the roles can be delivered differently, while maintaining a high standard of primary care…

‘Suffolk is a fantastic place to live and work and we’re working with NHS England, Suffolk GP Federation and Health Education England in supporting programmes that will recruit and retain health professionals across the area.’

Suffolk GP Federation medical director and chair Dr Paul Driscoll said: ‘GP practices in Suffolk are working under severe pressure and this is often linked to difficulties surrounding the recruitment of health professionals.’

He said this was linked to the national GP shortage and more senior partners seeking early retirement.

He added: ‘Here in Suffolk we have committed and caring clinicians who are willing to embrace change and we should be positive about what we can achieve…

‘We are working hard in partnership with the two CCGs and other healthcare colleagues to address the challenges faced by the county in the most effective way, whilst ensuring patients can continue to use their local GP practices and receive high quality care.’

Dr Driscoll said the federation was also exploring other measures to ease recruitment woes including making better use of the skills of nurses and the potential of hiring pharmacists, physiotherapists and paramedics to help GPs.

He also said they were looking at offering new GPs ‘flexible working, portfolio careers and the ability to move around’, as this is what it has found younger doctors want.

He said: ‘These can be hard to provide in small traditional practices but working in groups, federations or single partnerships are much more achievable.

It comes as Pulse reported last year that a two-year scheme offering £50,000 a year to work in England attracted only six PAs from the US.

Meanwhile, NHS Leicester City CCG launched a £600,000 programme to bring over US PAs in 2015 and many UK universities have also launched their own PA programmes.

In all, health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s commitment to recruit 1,000 physician associates to work in general practice is set to cost more than £15m.