A recent Panorama investigation by the BBC has revealed that a number of GP practices, further to what has been common practice to give patients appointments with nurse practitioners, have been using physician associates. As a relatively new type of medical professional, it is unlikely the general public will understand the difference between being offered an appointment with a GP, or ‘general physician’, and a PA, or ‘physician associate’.
Whilst physician associates are meant to be supervised by a GP, the investigation has revealed that this may not always be the case, or not to the level required. The reason they should be supervised is the difference in training: a GP will have studied medicine at university and then undergone rigorous training in hospitals and GP practices to specialise. In contrast, physician associates will have studied a science degree and then a two-year post-graduate qualification, meaning that, whilst trained, they lack the breadth of experience of a GP.
In some cases, the investigation discovered, GP practices have also failed to act upon hospital letters for up to six months, the effects of which could be life changing for patients.
It is always important for patients to properly understand who it is they are seeing, more so in the post-Covid-19 world where a telephone appointment has become the new normal.
One GP, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had witnessed the way PAs had been used where she worked. "They were fantastic colleagues and trained to do certain roles, but not trained to basically do as much work as a GP. They were doing the same job as us, with less experience, less qualifications and earning less money," she said.