Physician associate – regulation update

We have been informed by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) that the regulation of physician associates (PAs) anaesthesia associates (AAs) by the General Medical Council (GMC) will begin no earlier than the summer of 2023. This is of course disappointing, as we were expecting regulation to begin in 2022.

We met with DHSC officials immediately to understand the reasons for the delay. We also wanted to explore anything that might be done in the interim to make sure PAs are well supported and best able to help the NHS through the current tough period as key members of the medical team.

Regulation of PAs will be enabled by a large piece of legislation that will reform healthcare regulation. DHSC is expected to be further along with its development by now, but the complexity has set it back. They now expect to have drafted legislation by spring 2022 and for it to begin the parliamentary process in autumn 2022. The GMC will then need to consult on the new rules, meaning regulation won’t happen until summer 2023 at the earliest.

Both we and DHSC agree this is a disappointing setback, particularly with regards to securing rights for prescribing and ordering ionising radiation. Unfortunately, given these rights are only available to regulated professions, it is highly unlikely we’ll be able to do anything about that in the interim. But we will work with them and the GMC to make sure the gap between regulation and these rights being granted is as short as possible.

We also raised the issue of access to student funding for PA students. We hope that regulation will class these as pre-registration postgraduate healthcare courses, opening access to the Student Loans Company and the NHS Learning Support Fund. We will be meeting DHSC officials in the next couple of weeks to discuss what can be done in the interim.

Again, this is disappointing for all of us, but DHSC was keen to stress that regulations of PAs will indeed happen. We will keep you informed of developments as soon as we can.

November 2021