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NHS removes patient-facing material referring to PAs as ‘physicians’

NHS removes patient-facing material referring to PAs as ‘physicians’

Doctors have criticised ‘dangerous’ NHS posters which referred to physician associates (PAs) working in GP practices as ‘physicians’. 

The posters formed part of a campaign developed by the Bradford branch of West Yorkshire ICB, aimed at helping patients to better understand new roles in general practice.

The campaign material also referred to ‘cancer specialists’ working in general practice.

Several posters have now been removed from the website, and Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership has admitted that the PA title was ‘incorrectly labelled as physician’.

The organisation also recognised other ‘significant errors’ such as describing a healthcare assistant as a ‘nurse’ and using the word ‘specialist’ inaccurately.

After being circulated online over the weekend, the BMA said it is ‘dangerous to blur the lines between doctors and PAs’ and suggested that the campaign is ‘illegal’. 

One of the posters said: ‘The Physician will see you now. Not everyone needs to see a doctor. Your GP practice will make sure you speak to the right person as quickly as possible.’

Dr Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor who shared the posters on X, said that ‘physician’ is a title that is ‘protected in law’ and that ‘legally, only a qualified doctor with a medical degree can call themselves a doctor’.

‘I am simply horrified to see NHS England now literally breaking the law in how it misrepresents physician associates and other allied health professionals – who are NOT doctors – to the public,’ she said. 

Dr Clarke also suggested this is part of a project which is ‘confusing and bamboozling the public into believing they’ve seen a doctor when they’ve been fobbed off with someone less well trained and experienced’.

She added: ‘Just as bad, they’ve suggested general practices have “cancer specialists” yet these staff are not oncologists or even doctors at all. 

‘They know full well many people regard “cancer specialist” as synonymous with oncologist. And clearly intend to misread the public.’

In response to the GP practice posters, the BMA said: ‘It’s dangerous to blur the lines between doctors and PAs (not doctors/no medical degree).

‘This kind of practice is illegal and what the GMC should protect the public against. NHS England must rethink the #itsaGPthing campaign entirely.’

In a statement, Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership said the campaign was developed with the involvement of GP practice colleagues and clinical leads, and it aims to ‘help people understand the range of roles working alongside doctors’ in practices.

The ICB continued: ‘We now recognise that despite receiving feedback from one of our clinical leads, we had not updated all our campaign resources.

‘Therefore, the title of physician associate has been incorrectly labelled as physician and although a corrected version of the leaflet was produced, it had not been changed on posters or animations.

‘In addition, there are two other titles with the word “specialist” being used which has been highlighted as incorrect, and a healthcare assistant mistakenly described as “nurse”. These are significant errors and should have been avoided.’

It added that a ‘rapid internal review’ is being carried out to understand how the mistake happened and to ensure it does not happen again.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The NHS has been clear that Physician Associates are not doctors – they cannot and must not replace doctors. The roles are trained to work with a range of clinicians as part of a wider team.’

NHS England has previously emphasised that PAs ‘are not substitutes for doctors’ and must not be ‘used as replacements for doctors’ on rotas.

But Pulse’s recent analysis explored concerns that the increase in PAs and other additional staff has resulted in a scarcity of GP roles.

And politicians have raised concerns that patients have been ‘misled’ by some PAs, who do not correct the record when someone calls them a doctor.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

John Graham Munro 17 June, 2024 5:06 pm

Dr. Rachel Clarke———-how about P.h.Ds ?

David Church 17 June, 2024 8:02 pm

I think it is the title ‘Physician’ that is protected, is it not? So PhDs is OK – but not if in a medical context : if speaking at a health event it is inappropriate for a person with a PhD (or a DD or D Litt, etc) to promote themselves as ‘Doctor so-and-so, because that could be interpreted as misrepresentation as a Physician.
On the other hand, presumably Gareth in Bradford actually is a medically-qualified Oncologist, or else he would be guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation.
Just further proof that NHS Management, in Braford at least, does not have a clue what they are talking about in healthcare ! This is very worrying when they are managing the health of the population, and needs to be urgently rectified. All posters should have been approved by Board members, including the Medical Director of the Trust/ICB/whatever.

Michael Mullineux 17 June, 2024 9:15 pm

Lions and donkeys

Waseem Jerjes 17 June, 2024 10:25 pm

This is a total disaster. Calling PAs ‘physicians’ is misleading and dangerous, making patients think they’re seeing real doctors when they’re not. It messes up patient trust and safety big time. The NHS needs to fix this ASAP to prevent more confusion and risks.

S. Ali 17 June, 2024 10:25 pm

Missed out, highlighting safeguarding, public interest and legally we ALL have a legal duty. So either they act or lawfully given crime, the names of the Phsyicain Assisstants are provided so they are reported to the Police for breach if Article 49 of the the Medical Act 1983 (as ameneded).

Mark Howson 17 June, 2024 10:55 pm

Technically what is illegal is anyone passing themselves off as a medical practitioner as defined by the medical act 1983 and its amendments in 1995. The use of the term doctor becomes a criminal offence when used to pass one self off as a medical practitioner to a patient. The most obvious example of this is the use by chiropractors. If an ANP or a PA gives the impression of being a “doctor” ( here Doctor is used as a job description. Not a title) that is a criminal act. In a medical setting a psychologist with a PhD using the title Dr must make sure the patient understands they are not a “doctor” as in the job designation. When doctors use the designation Dr and do not have a PhD it is not a title but describes their role. Similar to the way Postman Is used as a designation for Postman Pat.

Wendy Kitching 18 June, 2024 8:24 am

If they had just used. “ ‘s “ correctly from the beginning and called them Physician’s Assistant or even Physician’s Associate then it would have been clear that they weren’t pretending to be/ being misrepresented as physicians .

Yes Man 18 June, 2024 11:09 am

Who needs medical school and the countless filters to ensure the right people get to dabble in matters of life and death eh?

Decorum Est 19 June, 2024 3:56 pm

‘ It messes up patient trust and safety big time’

Not saying that isn’t ‘fair comment’ but have you read the comments in Daily Mail about doctors?

Michael Johnson 21 June, 2024 5:37 pm

Lets be honest.
This was intentional.
They have been caught with their pants down and can no longer deny the truth
From redirecting primary care funding away from GP employment , creating doctor unemployment , to the inexorable rise of the noctor there has been a policy if doctor lite NHS.
That lickspittles and quislings in our own profession cheer lead it , so they can run at the coat tails of management says a lot.
Don’t train them.
Don’t supervise them.
Don’t employ them.

As if you do, they will take your jobs.
Dont claim you weren’t warned.