Experts have predicted that hundreds of physician associates - dependent practitioners who work with doctors - will take on work in primary care over the coming years as the government bids to plug a chronic GP workforce shortage.
A recent BJGP paper suggested UK medical schools could produce around 400 of these clinicians a year by 2018, but a Leicester recruitment scheme suggests that some CCGs believe they cannot afford to wait.
Leicester City CCG has confirmed it plans to spend £600,000 to recruit 10 physician associates from the US. These staff will receive extra training locally before being deployed in GP practices across the city.
Leicester City CCG chairman, GP Professor Azhar Farooqi, said: 'In common with many parts of the country, Leicester has a shortage of GPs and, with many of our current GPs due to retire in the next few years, this problem is not about to diminish. The physician associates will not be able to prescribe but they will be able to take on a substantial amount of clinical work, working in tandem with GPs.
'This will enable GPs to focus on patients that specifically require their particular skills. The physician associate role is also significantly cheaper than a GP, however this is not the primary consideration for us as commissioners - the prime benefit is in enabling us to fill a staffing gap quickly and effectively.'
Professor Farooqi said the CCG had recruited from the US because only around 250 UK physician associates had been trained to date.
The RCGP has backed the use of a wider range of staff in primary care to take workload off of GPs, with an RCGP Wales report suggesting 20% of GP work could be done by pharmacists, physician associates and others.