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Physician associates are ‘self funding’, says Royal College of Physicians

The Royal College of Physicians has expressed concern about news that money cut from GP training support is being spent on educating physician associates (PAs).

At Health Education England’s board meeting on Tuesday, finance director Steve Clarke said that they had ‘decided we needed to make reductions in education support so we could afford… programmes like developing physician associates, and the nursing associate programme’.

But, despite the comments, RCP and its subdivision Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) have suggested it is ‘misleading’ to claim cuts have taken place to fund PA training.

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre and FCA president Jeannie Watkins said in a statement that they were ‘very concerned by the headline which appeared in Pulse yesterday, claiming that cuts to the overall HEE budget, and the direct negative impact this will have on GP training, can be blamed on the reallocation of training resources to physician associates’.

They added: ‘Physician associates are essentially self funding and it is misleading to claim that the cuts have taken place specifically in order to support their training. HEE as a whole is facing budget cuts of 30%, as well as a reduction in its staff numbers.’

The RCP statement added that is was ‘deeply worrying’ that the HEE budget is being cut ‘at a time when the NHS is underfunded, overstretched, and in need of more staff’, including GPs and PAs.

They went on to stress that PAs will ‘not replace GPs’ because they ‘require a dedicated GP supervisor in order to practice’ but said they ‘add value to the primary care team, increasing access for patients and the capacity of the practice to see more patients, and provide them with more time’.

The Government has pledged to train an extra 1,000 physician associates by 2020, at a cost of over £15m including covering bursaries and course fees.

Note: HEE’s overall budget is not facing cuts of 30% but rather it has been asked to trim its ‘running costs’ by this proportion.