Cut-price physician associates with just two years of training will now be regulated by same watchdog as real doctors in ‘dangerous’ move that will ‘blur the line’

Doctors' employees will be regulated by the same watchdog as doctors under a new law passed this week – despite a backlash from medics.

Health officials plan to massively increase the number of staff working in the NHS and say the General Medical Council is ideally placed to regulate them.

But the British Medical Association and Doctors Association UK have warned that this 'dangerous' move will 'blur' the line between doctor and employee and pose a risk to patient safety.

They have raised concerns that patients visiting a PA may not be aware that they are seeing a less qualified member of staff, citing a number of cases where some have suffered harm.

Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician and assist by taking medical histories, examining patients, making diagnoses and analyzing test results.

The BMA has raised concerns that patients seeing a PA may not be aware that they are seeing a less qualified member of staff

The role requires two years of postgraduate study, but no formal medical training, and is currently unregulated.

The Department of Health and Social Care said regulating PAs through the GMC will 'increase' patient safety, ease pressure on doctors and improve access to care.

However, the government plans to pass the bill on Wednesday using a statutory instrument, meaning it will not be examined by the House of Commons.

The regulator will establish standards of practice, education and training, and procedures for fitness to practice. The regulations will come into effect at the end of 2024.

There are approximately 1,500 PAs working in hospitals and 1,700 in primary care in England.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan shows bosses want to increase the PA workforce to 10,000 by 2036/2037.

There are also approximately 320 anesthetists, who work under the supervision of a medically qualified anaesthetist, with plans to increase their numbers to 2,000 over the same period.

They assess patients before surgery, initiate and manage medications, administer fluid and blood therapy during surgery, and ensure there is a plan for patients after their surgery.

The BMA last month called on the NHS to freeze recruitment of doctor staff, warning the rapid expansion is putting patients at risk

The BMA last month called on the NHS to freeze recruitment of doctor staff, warning the rapid expansion is putting patients at risk

They will also be regulated by the GMC under the new reforms, which include measures to speed up the registration process for retired healthcare workers looking to return to work, and a faster fitness to practice process.

Health Minister Victoria Atkins said: 'Doctors and anesthetists already make a major contribution to the NHS, supporting doctors to deliver high-quality care to patients more quickly.

“This new legislation paves the way for these professionals to meet the same strict standards as physicians, increasing patient safety.”

Last month the BMA called on the NHS to freeze recruitment of doctor staff, warning the rapid expansion is putting patients at risk.

It says the new recruits “infringe on the role of doctors” and that the dangers they pose should not be seen as a “price worth paying” for quickly solving a workforce shortage.

Actress Emily Chesterton, 30, died of a blood clot late last year after a PA dismissed her symptoms as anxiety and gave her pills instead of referring her to A&E.

She thought she had been seen by a GP at her practice in North London, but had actually been seen twice by a member of staff.

Professor Philip Banfield, chairman of the council at the BMA, said on Monday that the government's claim that regulating staff through the GMC will 'increase' patient safety is a 'slap in the face' for doctors.

He added: “The government is encouraging misrepresentation.

“If patients are told that the people who see them are supervised by the same agency that regulates doctors, they will think they are getting the standard of care from a doctor.”

'But there is no comparison between the two years of training of a PA and the four to six years required to qualify as a doctor.

'Patients deserve to know who is treating them and what standard of care they are receiving.

'By supporting the impression that PAs can do everything doctors can do, the government is opening the way for more patient safety incidents along the tragic lines we have already seen.

“The BMA will continue to oppose this dangerous course every step of the way.”

The Doctors Association UK said more than 650 doctors have shared 'alarming cases of harm to patients', with workers carrying out tasks that should have been done by doctors.

The co-chairs have now written to the heads of the GMC and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, expressing their 'serious concerns'.

Dr. Kneale, co-chair of DAUK, said the plans risk blurring the boundaries between staff and doctors and that a new regulator or the Health and Care Professions Council would be a “more appropriate” choice.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We are pleased to be able to support the development of these valuable professionals as we recognize the important role they play in the medical workforce.

'Regulation will help increase the contribution that PAs and AAs can make to the UK healthcare system, while keeping patients safe.'