Background to Physician Associates in the UK

In recognition of the need for a new breed of healthcare professional, a two year pilot project was established in 2002 to look at new ways of working. From this the healthcare practitioner was born. The pilot project was a collaboration between the Changing Workforce Programme and Kingston and St George's, University of London. At this time an American physician associate was hired to teach clinical skills to the trainees on the programme. In 2004 this moved forward to the Medical Care Practitioner Programme and eventually became the physician associate programme that we all know and love today.


Physician associates were formally introduced into the UK workforce in 2003 when Sandwell and Rowley Regis Primary Care Trust (PCT) enlisted two US-trained physician associates in response to local recruitment difficulties. In early 2004, 12 additional US-trained physician associates were recruited to work in GP and A&E settings in the Birmingham area. During the same year the Department of Health (NHS Modernisation Agency) Changing Workforce Programme (CWP) commissioned an evaluation by the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) of the impact of the introduction of physician associates. The results indicated a high level of both patient and physician satisfaction. In line with NHS goals, there was acceptance and appropriate provision of medical care with a strongly patient-centred focus. (The Introduction of US-Trained Physician Associates to Primary Care and A&E depts. in Sandwell & Birmingham, Final Report, p.116-119).


Innovative PCT's and GP surgeries continue to recruit US-trained physician associates and more recently UK graduates to expand access to care and shift workload. In 2006 the DH released the Competence and Curriculum Framework (CCF) for the physician associate, developed in partnership with The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of General Practitioners. The CCF defines the role and scope of practice standards for education and assessment of physician associates. This document has recently been reviewed in order to update it in light of the changing role of the physician associate.


As of November 2011 a managed voluntary register for physician associates has been established and is managed by the faculty of physician associates. We have an ever increasing number of members as more and more universities offer the physician associate programme. The profession is still not regulated, however this remains at the top of the faculty's priority list.