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Consultation launched to regulate and ‘maximise’ the role of physician associates

by Beth Gault
20 February 2023

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The Government has launched a consultation on draft legislation to allow the GMC to regulate physician associates (PAs) with the aim of expanding their role and relieving pressure on GPs.

The legislation would ‘maximise’ the potential of the role, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and would open opportunities to ‘look at the case for extending prescribing responsibilities to PAs’.

This, the DHSC said, would free up clinician time to focus on seeing patients and boost the number of appointments available. 

There are currently over 3,500 PAs in the NHS, however the Government aims to train an additional 1,000 PAs per year from 2023/24. Training usually lasts two years. 

Under these proposals, the role would be regulated by the GMC by the second half of 2024.

Currently, PAs are part of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) and can diagnose illnesses, perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and develop treatment management plans under the supervision of doctors.

The proposals also include making the role of anaesthesia associates (AAs) regulated by the GMC to better support surgeons.

The Government had previously announced plans for the GMC to regulate PAs, and held a consultation in 2021 on reforming professional regulation that received over 500 responses. However, it said that there had been changes made since this previous consultation.

The DHSC said: ‘We recognise that this is a delay to the previously published timetable for the regulation of AAs and PAs. Although this is in part due to the impact of the pandemic, it is important to note that this work is being taken forward as part of a broader package of reforms to regulators’ governing legislation, which is significant and complex.

‘Under the previous plan, a single order would have introduced regulation for AAs and PAs and introduced reformed legislation for the GMC’s regulation of doctors, but with the reforms for doctors commencing later. Now we will bring forward a separate order that will bring AAs and PAs into regulation without changing the GMC’s regulatory framework for doctors in the first instance.’

The latest plan also includes modernising registration and regulatory processes for the GMC and other regulatory bodies to enable a more flexible response to particular healthcare challenges. For example, during the Covid pandemic remote fitness to practise hearings were introduced to boost workforce numbers, but at the time this required emergency registers to be opened, which slowed the process.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I want all parts of modern, multi-skilled healthcare teams to be able to work to their full potential.

‘That’s why we’re modernising out of date regulatory legislation to harness the full potential of roles such as physician and anaesthesia associates to provide the highest quality care for patients and relieve pressure on the NHS.

‘This could also open the door to expanding prescribing powers, helping free up GPs, improve access to appointments and reduce pressure on hospitals.’

The consultation is open until 11:45pm on 16 May 2023.