Army of 'physician associates' can ease pressure on GPs

Hundreds of medically-trained 'physician associates' will be 'part of a permanent solution to ever-growing work pressures' in general practice over the coming years, experts believe.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard: physician associates can ease pressure on GPs
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard: physician associates can ease pressure on GPs

Research published in the British Journal of General Practice highlights a growing ‘production line’ that will soon bolster the primary care workforce.

More than 400 medically trained physician associates – dependent practitioners who work with doctors – will qualify annually from UK universities by 2018, the paper suggests.

The small number of these health professionals currently working in the UK carry out tasks including face-to-face urgent and non-urgent consultations, reviewing of test results and chronic disease management.

The researchers wrote: ‘We suggest the physician associate model has a lot to offer GPs both in the short and long term.

GP workload solution

‘The pressures on general practice are not going to go away and physician associates are one of the groups that can help support GPs to manage complex caseloads and reduce burnout, without drawing clinicians away from other similarly pressured professions such as nursing.’

RCGP honorary treasurer Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said:

‘GPs are highly trained medical doctors, and our skills at being able to diagnose and treat the "whole person" through initial consultation and the unique relationship we build up with our patients over time cannot be substituted.

‘But there are many tasks that take up a huge amount of GPs' time that physician associate can do, thus enabling family doctors to spend more time with patients with multiple and complex needs, for whom the standard 10-minute consultation is not enough.’

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