Extra assistants to help doctors and ease workload

NHS England plans to boost the number of ‘doctor’s assistants’ to reduce the workload on physicians.

The Department of Health are planning to increase recruitment and training places available to physician associates across the NHS in a bid to free up doctors’ time to spend with patients.

Around 200 physician associates are currently employed across the health services, working to support doctors by carrying out basic care activities such as x-rays, examinations and simple diagnoses.

The government plan to boost recruitment of physician associates and more than double the number of training places from 105 to 225, expanding the availability of training schemes across the country.

In response to the plans Dr Mark Porter, council chair at the British Medical Association, said: “Physician assistants can be a valued part of the NHS and, as long as the scope of what they do is clear, they can provide an intermediate level of care and reduce workload pressures.”

However, the Patients Association has raised concerns that the increase in physician associates could be the first step towards relying more heavily on assistants to save money.

Dr Porter said: “Only doctors can provide certain types of care so the government needs to ensure that standards won’t be affected by these changes.”

A spokesman from the Department of Health responded to the concerns, stressing that assistant are “supporting busy doctors to spend more time with patients, not replace them.”

“They can carry out clearly defined duties, but have to be under strict supervision of a doctor at all times.”

There are plans for a further increase of assistant roles next year.