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Hundreds of physician assistants to support GPs in £5bn plan

Health education bosses have commissioned hundreds of new ‘physician assistants’ roles to support GPs, as part of a £5bn plan for the coming year.

Health Education England’s Workforce Plan for England reveals that it wants to expand the number of full-time equivalent GPs by 15% by 2020, and train up 15% more GPs next year.

It also said it expects co-commissioning to alleviate the current crisis in GP recruitment, and that commissioners will have to consider more recruitment from overseas to support NHS England’s plans for primary care.

The plan comes after Pulse revealed this year that there were huge recruitment problems in GP training, with some areas undersubscribed by as much as 40%, necessitating an unprecedented third round of recruitment.

The document, approved today, reveals that HEE will commission 205 physician assistant training posts, representing a 754% increase on last year.

It says: ‘Physician assistants are trained to perform a number of duties, including taking medical histories, performing examinations, diagnosing illnesses, analysing test results and developing management plans.

‘So by 2017, we expect to see real improvements in patient care, particularly in emergency care, general adult medicine and general practice.’

This follows moves by the RCGP to petition ministers to fund new ‘medical assistants’ roles, which the college said would see GPs gaining ‘valuable support’ in the timeframe of just a quarter of a year.

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HEE said: ‘Sometimes, transformation can be achieved through encouraging commissioners and employers to create jobs for staff in different locations – such as increasing community-based nursing.

‘But increasingly, we will need to invest in entirely new roles and professions, such as physicians assistants, to help deliver more holistic care across different teams and settings.’

It also said it would commission 108 ‘broad based training pilots’ for doctors, representing a 50% increase on last year, to provide a more flexible workforce with general skills.

The document also revealed:

  • Plans to increase the number of GPs available for employment by 15% by 2020
  • Plans to train 3,100 trainees in 2015 – an increase on 2,688 this year
  • Following the publication of NHS England’s five-year view, it said further work led by Professor Martin Roland now needs to be done to see how many more GPs need to be trained to help run the new models of care, such as multi-specialty care providers and Primary and Acute Care Systems
  • HEE has been working closely with the RCGP on attracting medical graduates to become GPs

Explaining the new roles, HEE said: ‘Physician assistant training lasts two years, and although it involves many aspects of an undergraduate or post-graduate medical degree, it focuses principally on general adult medicine in hospital and general practice, rather than specialty care.

‘However, at two years, the training is much shorter than a qualified doctor who would typically take around 10 years to train as a GP (including medical school) and 14 years to train as a surgeon.’

HEE added that commissioners would need to look at overseas recruitment to solve the current recruitment crisis.

It said: ‘If partners require the GP workforce to grow more quickly than is achievable through newly trained supply, or at a greater scale, then they would have to consider alternate sources of supply such as retention schemes, more return to practice than is currently planned, and international recruitment of qualified GPs.’