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Government selects GMC to regulate physician associates

by Nicola Merrifield
19 August 2019

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The General Medical Council (GMC) has been selected to regulate physician associates, following agreement from all four UK Governments.

Last year the Government said it would push forward with legislation to regulate the new role, but it was still undecided as to which body would be responsible for monitoring physician associates (PAs).

The Government confirmed today that the GMC will regulate both PAs and anaesthesia associates.

The GMC said it looked forward to supporting the two roles – but stressed the additional cost of regulating them ‘should not be borne by doctors’.

The timescales for setting up regulation and the associated costs are still due to be worked out, said the GMC.

But the BMA said it was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to the GMC being the chosen regulator, pointing out that it already has a ‘significant scope of work’ in relation to overseeing doctors’ medical education and training, setting professional standards and acting on concerns.

PAs currently work under the supervision of doctors and are unable to prescribe or refer patients for scans – but it is believed that regulation will lead to them being able to prescribe.

In a statement, health minister Stephen Hammond said today’s announcement was a ‘much-needed, positive step forward’.

He said: ‘Professional regulation from the GMC will give associates renewed support to thrive in diverse clinical teams, helping them provide the highest quality care for patients, and to reach their full career potential.’

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘We are pleased the four UK governments have made a decision about who should take this important work forward.

‘We look forward to supporting physician associates and anaesthesia associates to maximise their contribution to the workforce, while ensuring high standards are maintained to meet the needs of patients.

‘We are now working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to determine timescales and costs. We have been clear that costs should not be borne by doctors.’

Jeannie Watkins, president of membership body the Faculty of Physician Associates, said: ‘We are delighted the voices of the FPA, the Royal College of Physicians and those of our members have been heard.

‘The road to regulation has been long – now we can focus on ensuring that PAs work to the full scope of their practice, with professional credibility and the corresponding confidence that will give the public.’

BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Napgaul, said the BMA supports statutory regulation of PAs, but added: ‘However, we are fundamentally opposed to the position that the GMC is the right organisation to be their regulator and as such, the process must now be carefully managed to minimise any adverse impact on doctors and, of course, patients.’

He said: ‘We will now work hard to ensure that the regulation of PAs and AAs is introduced in a way that will not be detrimental to doctors, especially doctors in training.

‘The Government and the GMC must work with doctors to properly assess the educational impact on trainees and supervisors in all care settings where PAs and AAs work. The BMA will continue to work with all stakeholders, including those representing Medical Association Professionals to fully ensure safe patient care and provide the future workforce the NHS needs.”

The Government has long promoted physician associates as a potential solution for the workforce crisis, and committed to recruiting 1,000 physician associates to general practice by 2020.

A risk assessment of PAs by Health Education England in 2017 found that patients are at high risk of harm from physician associates. It called for compulsory regulation of the role.

This article was first published by our sister title Pulse


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