The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) held an additional Council meeting on 25 October to discuss physician associates. The meeting was organised in response to a request by letter from RCP fellows.
The RCP remains supportive of the physician associate (PA) role as part of the multidisciplinary healthcare team. We recognise there are a range of views and some strong feelings about the PA profession and accept that there are issues that need to be resolved.
Patients need more clarity on the PA role. Following the publication of ‘Physician associate title and introduction guidance for PAs, supervisors, employers and organisations’ on 5 October, we will produce information for patients for use across the NHS.
More clarity is needed on the scope of practice and supervision of PAs. We will establish a multi- professional working group to consider these issues as a matter of urgency.
Regulation of the profession is also urgently needed to uphold patient safety. Government must deliver on its plans to bring forward legislation by the end of the year, with regulation taking effect by the end of 2024. We will continue to discuss the transition to regulation with the GMC.
In the meantime, we remind employers to ensure that PAs are members of the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register and are supervised under appropriate governance frameworks. We have already written to NHS Employers about this.
Support and supervision
Current discussions about the PA profession are having a particularly negative impact on many currently working in the NHS. We are concerned for the physical and mental wellbeing of all our members and healthcare professionals in the current context of a health and care system under long-term pressure. In some cases this has led to an adversarial environment, and we urge that professional behaviours of respect are upheld.
As the membership body for physicians, the RCP also recognises that the experience of training for all doctors needs significant improvement. The RCP will continue to advocate for physicians at all career stages and from different training backgrounds.
Doctors of all grades and backgrounds, and other healthcare professionals, should have equitable access to supervision and support. That requires that senior doctors have sufficient time in job plans to provide supervision.
Concerns have been highlighted about the experience of doctors in training. The RCP will work with its partners in the Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the UK to better understand and explore changes we can make. We will continue to work with the Department for Health and Social Care, particularly the chief medical officers, and NHS England, particularly the national medical director, and with government in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to collectively improve the system for everyone.