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Intelligent solution or poor substitute?

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to see 1,000 new physician associates in primary care by 2020 to address the GP recruitment crisis. But critics are sceptical of the role’s implications for existing professions, including nursing.

While a Twitter storm is perhaps not the best indication of a real problem, there are serious questions in this debate about the primary care workforce.

Physician associates (PAs) are graduates, often in science, with two years’ postgraduate training and a nationally recognised qualification to work as assistants to doctors. While most UK-trained PAs are in acute hospitals, a few work in general practice.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced ambitions to employ 1,000 more PAs in general practice by 2020. This was part of the ‘new deal’ for primary care that aims to address the national GP recruitment crisis and support seven-day working.

Health Education England created 200 new PA training places for 2015 and courses have already begun. There are currently only around 200 PA posts across the NHS.

The first PAs to work in general practice in the UK were US-trained and joined practices

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