Physician assistants set to replace retiring GPs

Medical practitioner assistants will take up posts formerly filled by GPs when the UK grade starts following the success of American Physician Assistant pilots.

Physician assistant (PA) pilots in Sandwell in the West Midlands have been so successful that PCT managers have said they no longer intend to recruit GPs when old ones decide to retire.  

‘A PA can do anything a GP can do in the context of general practice,’ said Geraint Griffiths, formerly from Sandwell but now a director at South Staffordshire PCT. 

‘We haven’t yet found anything they can’t do except work independently — they can examine, diagnose, interpret and write prescriptions.’  

He said the only problems they had encountered was that sometimes they had been limited by the expertise of their supervisor — who is responsible for anything they do — and that they were not in a position to sign prescriptions.  

However, he said that in practice clinicians had enough confidence to sign off most prescriptions without any problems.  

PAs go through a two to three year postgraduate training course before qualifying and are currently paid between £40,000 and £50,000, making it much cheaper and quicker than training and employing a GP, said Mr Griffiths.  

Medical practitioner assistants are expected to undergo similar training although it will not be an exact like-for-like comparison.  

But GPC chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said medical practitioner assistants would be inadequately trained to deal with complex illnesses.  

‘Skilled nurse practitioners in primary care have taken over many more of the more routine tasks from GPs.  

‘I would need a lot of convincing that medical practitioner assistants would be of added benefit and would not confuse patients,’ he said.  

What PAs do  

Physician assistants: 

Can: examine, diagnose, interpret and write prescriptions.  

Cannot: sign prescriptions or work without a supervising clinician. 

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

Medical examiners to scrutinise deaths in community settings

The MDU's Dr Kathryn Leask explains how the expansion of the medical examiner system...

Person receiving a COVID-19 booster

COVID-19 booster campaign to start on 5 September, NHS England says

The COVID-19 booster programme will begin in care homes and for housebound patients...

GP consulting room

Nine in ten GPs fear their practice will struggle to cope this winter

Nearly nine in ten GPs fear that their practice will struggle to cope this winter,...

BMA sign

BMA elects new deputy chair of England GP committee and chair of Scottish council

Dr David Wrigley has been elected as new deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee in...

UK money

Almost half of practices say income from private fees has fallen in past year

Almost half of GP practices have seen their income from private and professional...

COVID-19 vaccination centre

BMA raises 'serious concerns' about GP workload and funding for autumn COVID boosters

The BMA has raised 'serious concerns' about the workload implications of this autumn's...