The Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) responds to the BBC Panorama investigation into general practice staffing and deployment of Physician Associates (PAs).

BBC Panorama, to be aired tonight, investigates general practice staffing and the deployment of physician associates (PAs). From the information reported today, it is disappointing to see the characterisation of the profession as ‘less qualified’.

The PA role is not a replacement for a GP or any other member of the general practice team. PAs are complementary to the existing practice team, working in conjunction with GPs to provide patients with improved access to care and continuity.  They take medical histories, perform physical examinations, diagnose conditions and treat a diverse range of patients including those with acute and chronic illnesses. As a complementary member of the healthcare team, PAs are playing a critical part in the drive to tackle the backlog faced for healthcare in both the primary and secondary care settings.

There are currently 3,143 qualified PAs on the managed voluntary register. PAs have practised in primary care for over 19 years and almost a third (30%) of qualified PAs are currently working in primary care.

It is concerning to see reports that two PAs working at this particular chain of GPs did not feel that they were receiving adequate support to see patients. The FPA offers a range of materials to support PA primary care employers. The FPA’s employer guidance for PAs in general practice explains that as dependent practitioners, PAs will always work under the supervision of and in conjunction with doctors as part of the medical team. A newly qualified PA must be provided with a supportive learning environment so they can consolidate and expand their skills and competencies. It is of the utmost importance that the profession and individual PAs are not taken advantage of in the ways that are suggested in the Panorama piece due to air tonight (13 June 2022).

In 2019, the government asked the General Medical Council (GMC) to regulate physician associates and anaesthesia associates. The government is expected to consult on draft legislation that will bring PAs into regulation later this year. The FPA is committed to PAs becoming regulated and gaining prescribing rights. This will enable PAs to contribute even more than they already do to multidisciplinary teams across the NHS in a range of settings including primary care, urgent and emergency care and mental health.

We continue to encourage PAs to share their experiences with us as a Faculty and the professional body representing the profession.  We will continue to work with primary care employers to promote the positive impact the PA role can have, and ensure PAs are utilised to their full potential.