Physician assistants role to be doubled, says DH


The NHS is to expand the use of ‘physician assistants’ and double the number of training places, the Department of Health in England has announced.

There are over 200 physician assistants across the UK working in a range of different healthcare settings. Although limited in that they are unable to prescribe or order diagnostic tests they can assist with patient histories and basic examinations.

The announcement to expand numbers has been welcomed by the Royal College of Physicians and the UK Association for Physician Assistants. Currently physician assistants undergo a similar two year programme to medical school following a national curriculum. It is designed to teach the basics in recognising, diagnosing and managing common clinical conditions under senior medical supervision.

“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 help reduce workload pressures. It’s important that all healthcare professionals, including doctors, are clear about the limits on the care they are able to provide, and work within them,” said Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council.

Other countries such as the US, where there are more than 80,000, have made greater use of physician assistants.