Health Education England pilots medical assistant training programme

Health Education England (HEE) is piloting a medical assistant training programme to help free up GP time, by allowing non-clinical workers to take on administrative work.

Dr Charlene McInnes, Darzi fellow, Health Education England (Photo: Pete Hill)

The pilot, which is running across nine sites in London and the South East, is currently training 30 medical assistants, Dr Charlene McInnes, a fellow at HEE, told the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool. She said the programme ‘aims to clarify what tasks they can undertake and how best we can train them to do it’.

Dr McInnes said that because measures to expand the GP workforce will take time to come into effect, developing the medical assistant role was one of several measures that could help to alleviate pressure on practices now.

The tasks medical assistants will be involved with following training include correspondence management, managing lab results, buddying with GPs for phone calls and clinical audit work.

Dr McInnes said findings showed that the training also helped increase confidence among non-clinical staff, who appreciated feeling more valued and that they could make a difference.

She said: ‘We hope GPs will report a reduced burden of admin while still providing high quality care to patients.

‘A lot of GPs talk about administrative work taking up significant proportion of their day – doing referral letters, chasing appointments. A lot of GPs report patients are attending with social problems and no medical need. So we need to think outside the box – is there anyone else we can turn to reduce pressures in primary care?’

Practice nurses

In the conference session on building the primary care workforce of the future, Tracey O’Keeffe, nurse and senior lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University, spoke about efforts to make the general practice nurse role more attractive to new nursing graduates.

‘General practice is a place people tend to go when they have children or are nearing retirement. We want them to see it as a career pathway from the start,' she said.

Her team has worked to boost awareness of practice nursing among nurses by increasing the number of placements in general practice. Providing placements in student nurses' third and final year also has an impact, she said, because nurses tend to go into employment in their final year.

Many students had complete misconceptions about practice nursing and did not realise that they could go into general practice as a newly qualified nurse, Ms O'Keeffee added.

Full coverage of RCGP annual conference 2017

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