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NHS hiring physician associate ambassadors to promote general practice

Education bosses are recruiting physician associate ‘GP ambassadors’ to promote and develop the new profession’s role in practices, and are offering up to £45,000 for recruits.

Health Education England has launched the role in its West Midlands deanery, recruiting four ambassadors last year and it is now looking to recruit a further four in 2017/18.

HEE told Pulse the PAs will be released for one or two days a week to undertake educational work with current students and development work around the role.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged to have 1,000 physician associates working in general practice by 2020 but PAs are just as likely to go into hospital specialties as general practice.

The 2016 PA census run by the Faculty of Physician Associates indicates that around 60 PAs – roughly 20% of the 288 graduate PAs in the UK – say they work in general practice, while a further 577 PAs are currently in training.

The number of universities offering the two-year postgraduate course for candidates with a prior life sciences degree more than tripled last year, and the NHS has also run drives to recruit PAs from America where the role is long established.

A job advert for a PA ambassador at a Slough training practice offers a salary of £35,000 to £45,000 per year, which will be subsidised by HEE.

The candidate must have at least one year of experience on top of their PA qualification.

HEE told Pulse it is not currently expanding the ambassador scheme beyond the West Midlands, and the Slough role is independent of them but its work pattern and duties are broadly the same.

A HEE spokesperson told Pulse: ‘HEE is keen to raise awareness of how the PA role fits within general practice teams.

‘We have appointed “PA ambassadors” in the West Midlands to highlight the benefits of the career to students as well as potential GP employers who may not know about this relatively new role. These ambassadors will be able to share their own experience and provide helpful insight.’

And Pulse has reported many practices already advocating the benefits of PAs and some have even made their senior PAs partners in the practice.

Dr Fahad Rizvi is a medical officer with Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC and a GP trainer, who has just taken up a teaching role with DeMontfort University on their PA course, told Pulse: ‘I feel that the well trained PAs will be an asset to primary care in UK. They already hold a primary science qualification. The ones I am teaching all have a bio-medical background and therefore have studied various medical subjects like haematology, psychology, etc.

‘The two-year course is like a fast track medical school with emphasis on diagnosing basic medical conditions and be aware of the serious ones. ‘

What is a physician associate?

To train as a physician associate in the UK you will usually need a bioscience first degree, or have worked as a registered healthcare professional. They will eventually be able to work independently, but under the supervision of a qualified doctor.

Once qualified they can take patient histories, see patients with undifferentiated symptoms and formulate management plans or request investigations – except those requiring ionising radiation.

However, because they are ‘dependent practitioners’, they will need a GP supervisor who can support them and will review and sign-off their work.

They are a relatively new role in the UK, and do not currently have any formal regulatory body or prescribing powers. However the Government is considering both of these.