The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) president Professor Jane Dacre and Faculties of Physician Associates (FPA) president Jeannie Watkins' joint response to reports concerning Health Education England's (HEE's) reallocation of training support from GPs to physician associates.
We are very concerned by the headline which appeared in Pulse yesterday, claiming that cuts to the overall HEE budget, and the direct negative impact this will have on GP training, can be blamed on the reallocation of training resources to physician associates. Physician associates are essentially self-funding and it is misleading to claim that the cuts have taken place specifically in order to support their training. HEE as a whole is facing budget cuts of 30%, as well as a reduction in its staff numbers.
These figures are of course deeply worrying at a time when the NHS is underfunded, overstretched, and in need of more staff – that includes physicians, GPs, nurses, physician associates and other healthcare professionals. It is vital that all areas of the NHS workforce are invested in, supported and valued, to ensure the health service is well staffed and capable of meeting ever-increasing demand. We have consistently called for increased funding specifically for training, and believe these cuts present a serious threat to the education and training of the NHS workforce as a whole.
Physician associates categorically do not replace GPs, as they require a dedicated GP supervisor in order to practice. They add value to the primary care team, increasing access for patients and the capacity of the practice to see more patients, and provide them with more time. Across GP practices where physician associates have been introduced, they have seen improvements in the quality of service and access for patients, and a reduced workload for GPs and the practice team.