I have been contacted by several constituents about the proposed regulation of anaesthesia associates (AAs) and physician associates (PAs) by the General Medical Council (GMC).
I note their concerns about the training and competency of anaesthesia and physician associates but disagree with the BMA’s assessment of the roles and calls to pause their recruitment.
The Government’s legislation to allow the GMC to regulate AAs and PAs builds on existing measures being taken to strengthen the training and competency of these roles over the past decade. Whilst the BMA’s survey suggests a lack of awareness among patients of AAs and PAs, the physician associate (PA) title has in fact been well established in the United Kingdom since 2014.
PAs and AAs are not a replacement for doctors but play an increasingly important role in supporting their work. Across the two roles, this includes performing some medical procedures, analysing test results, reviewing patients before surgery and ensuring there is a plan for patients after operations. To ensure their competence, during both training and qualified practice, PAs and AAs must work with a dedicated medical supervisor which will be a consultant, GP or other senior medical personnel.
This medical supervisor is responsible for the supervision and management of a student’s educational progress throughout the clinical placements of the course. However, practising PAs, nurses and other healthcare professionals can train, supervise and assess a PA student in a particular skill, procedure, or competence.
At present, the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians also provides professional support to PAs across the United Kingdom. The Faculty’s support includes setting standards for education and training, as well as overseeing a voluntary register of qualified PAs who have been declared fit to practise in the UK.
It is intended that the legislation, the Anaesthesia Associates and Physician Associates Order 2024, once approved by both Houses of Parliament will enable the GMC to commence regulation by the end of 2024. Regulation by the GMC will help provide clear standards for the clinical practice and professional conduct of PAs and make it easier for employers, patients, and the public to understand the relationship between this role and that of doctors.
Let me also assure you that NHS England is working with the relevant professional colleges and regulators to ensure the PA and AA roles are expanded safely and effectively. The new regulation will help ensure that PAs and AAs have the same levels of regulatory oversight and accountability as doctors and other regulated healthcare professionals.
I hope this update has provided some clarity. Please be assured I will continue to follow developments on this issue closely.