Who are Physician Associates?

25th Mar

Physician Associates and other Enhanced Roles

Physician Associates are a newer role within the NHS and this often causes confusion for our patients - do be reassurred that they are highly skilled and a key part of the Churchfields medical team. A contact with one of them should feel just the same as care from a GP.

The idea began more strongly in America where "Physician Assistants" have been active for many years. Here in the UK the Physician Associate programme accepts graduates with a science degree (such as "Biomedical Sciences") and then provides an intensive two year post-graduate training programme to prepare them for the NHS workforce. Physician Associates train in and are examined in all areas of medicine and must pass stringent final examinations to become qualified. This training encompasses medication and prescribing, just as a trainee doctor would receive. Hence Physician Associates are now to be found working throughout the NHS - both in hospitals and in general practice. Those working at Churchfields Surgery have been selected by us because of their aptitude and desire to work in community based general practice.

The Government has unfortunately been slow to enact the necessary laws that will fully utilise the professional status of Physician Associates. Hence at present they do not have a designated "title" to use in front of their name and neither do they have rights to sign prescriptions or order x-rays. It is our continuing hope that this legal oversight is soon corrected, as has long been promised, because the government is strongly committed to Physician Associates helping to fulfil the national shortfall in General Practitioners. At Churchfields Surgery we have an effective system that allows fairly seamless prescription and investigation ordering for the Physician Associates as they work alongside our designated "Clinical Supervisor" GP for the day.

Alongside Physician Associates, General Practice is also being strongly supported by Pharmacists working with our team. These skilled graduates have often previously worked in community pharmacy (the dispensing and advice at the local chemist) and have now progressed to being an embedded part of our team helping to ensure that medication use follows best practice and is effectively supervised within the practice also. 

Recognising the role that Pharmacists in all locations can bring to the NHS the Government is now rolling out a Community Pharmacy Consultation Service which it hopes will gradually take on a wider role with directly managing minor ailments currently helped through General Practice.