The role of the GP assistant is to support GPs – and the evidence suggests it is working. Dr Pipin Singh explains why GP assistants are worthy of practices’ and PCNs’ attention
The GP assistant (GPA) role was designed in 2018 to support GPs in performing their duties more efficiently. So, a GPA aims to facilitate the smooth running of clinics by performing routine administrative and some basic clinical tasks.
Evidence suggests that the role has had some success. For example, there is improved patient access and a better flow of patients through the system. GPs are less likely to get tied up in administrative tasks that can slow clinical work. The evidence also suggests financial savings by having GPAs undertake specific work, such as insurance reports. And there is also improved job satisfaction and, thus retention, of both GPs and GPAs.
So, how does the GPA role work?
What a GPA role looks like
Each GP practice can decide who would be suitable for the role. It could be either an existing member of the team or someone who is recruited externally. Ideally, a practice would want someone keen, committed, and motivated.
The ideal GPA would have excellent communication skills and recognition of good communication’s crucial role in improving patient safety and outcomes. A willingness to learn and develop is essential, as is recognising when they need help and support.
A full-time GPA post is usually 37 hours with a Band 3 to 4 salary on the Agenda for Change scale. All GPAs would be expected to adhere to practice policy and ensure ongoing professional development by attending mandatory training and annual updates, maintaining a portfolio if relevant, and undertaking an annual appraisal with a GP mentor.
In addition, they are expected to be aware of professional boundaries and to report any concerns about their role, either to their PCN-appointed mentor or within the practice to a GP partner or practice manager.
There are two routes to becoming a GPA, both following a national competency framework which centres around five key domains that contain a total of 58 competencies. These domains are:
- Managing health records.
For those who want a formal certification of training, HEE has an accredited training programme, which takes around six to nine months to complete. Or GPAs can receive on-the-job training in the practice using a GP mentor who follows the national competency framework.
There are pros and cons to both routes, but the ideal is a combination of the two. The HEE training pathway will require the GP mentor to provide structured training similar to that of a GP registrar (GPR) and be aware of portfolio requirements plus any mandatory university sessions.
How can a GPA support the practice?
The practice can decide on the specifics of a GPA role, but the general theme is that a GPA will undertake various tasks to ease the clinicians’ workload.
They might support healthcare assistants performing venepuncture and BMI checks. They could carry out basic observations and check BPs and blood glucose readings. Another task might be to dip urines and present the findings.
Additional patient contact might be preparation work before the GP appointment. This would include taking a basic history – noting the presenting complaint and any relevant history, such as drugs, family and social history – then presenting the case. Any queries after the consultation from the patient could be addressed to the GPA.
The GPA role includes administrative tasks such as extracting information from clinical letters and coding the data, attending to referral paperwork and completing insurance reports. They may also complete PIP/ESA forms.
And they would liaise with Care Navigation teams, social prescribers, and pharmacists. They could also attend multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings, share patient concerns, and learn from colleagues.
As each practice differs, some may wish their GPA to take on additional tasks. Whatever the GPA is asked to do, they must be supported and given ample opportunity to debrief with their GP mentor. The partnership is responsible for the decisions that GPAs make, so GP mentors must be aware of this.
As the flexibility of the GPA role means it can be adapted to different needs, it has the potential to be of great assistance to general practice, providing the right support is in place.
Tips for getting the most out of the GPA role
- Ensure that your team know what is expected from a GPA role
- Make sure the GPA is comfortable with their environment
- Provide a clear induction programme and annual appraisals
- Invite the GPA to all team meetings
- Have a clear mechanism for addressing concerns – clinical or otherwise – about the post
- Ensure that the GPA has the opportunity to debrief regularly and has appropriate mentorship
- If a practice is not a training practice, then seek advice from one that is. They will be able to explain how to provide best practice support/mentorship.
Dr Pipin Singh is a GP partner and trainer in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear