Department of Health and Social Care
Plans to bolster patient safety and boost support for frontline staff by streamlining the system for healthcare regulators
The government will streamline the system to modernise regulatory legislation to boost patient safety and support staff
- Regulating thousands of medical associate professions will help increase their deployment on the frontline
- Potential for their role to be expanded, including looking at the case for extending prescribing responsibilities to PAs and AAs, reducing pressure on other frontline staff
The government has reaffirmed its commitment to streamline the system, improve patient safety and expand the role of medical support staff in the NHS to relieve pressure on GPs and improve access to services.
A new consultation which was launched recently seeking views on draft legislation to provide the General Medical Council (GMC) with powers to regulate physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) for the first time.
These professions support doctors and surgeons in providing medical care and anaesthetic services to patients. With over 3,500 PAs and 160 AAs working already, regulation will enable them to play an increasingly important part in supporting the workforce to deliver the medical care appropriate for a growing, changing and ageing population.
Regulation is key to help maximise the potential of these roles to boost the workforce and increase their deployment on the frontline, particularly in primary care. For example, once regulated, opportunities could be explored for PAs to help relieve pressure on GPs, including looking at the case for extending prescribing responsibilities to PAs. This would free up clinician time to focus on seeing patients and boosting the number of appointments.
The government consultation, launched recently, also represents the next step in the government’s commitment to modernise the regulatory system for healthcare professionals across the UK. These changes will give all regulators the powers to design their own regulatory processes to improve patient safety and help to streamline the system to enable staff to join the NHS frontline more easily.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
I want all parts of modern, multi-skilled healthcare teams to able to work to their full potential.
That’s why we’re modernising out of date regulatory legislation to harness the full potential of roles such as physician and anaesthesia associates to provide the highest quality care for patients and relieve pressure on the NHS.
This could also open the door to expanding prescribing powers, helping free up GPs, improve access to appointments and reduce pressure on hospitals.
The wider proposals also include:
- Streamlining the system to allow regulatory bodies to update and change their day-to-day regulatory processes and standards, without needing the approval of Parliament or the Privy Council, allowing them to respond to changes quickly.
- Modernising and improving registration and regulatory processes to enable professions to respond to emerging healthcare challenges more quickly and ensure patients can continue accessing high quality services, confident they are provided by practitioners who are fit to practice. For example, during the Covid pandemic, regulators wanted to introduce remote fitness to practise hearings to boost workforce numbers, but this required to enable regulators to open emergency registers, slowing down the process.
- Ensuring consistent powers for each of the healthcare professional regulators as there is currently variation in the powers regulators have available. This means regulators across different professions will be working with similar powers, presenting opportunities for collaboration and sharing of best practice, ultimately aimed at improving patient safety and outcomes.
PAs and AAs undergo two years of post-graduate studying on average. PAs deliver health care and treatment to patients, such as diagnosing illnesses, performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and developing treatment management plans, under the supervision of doctors whilst AAs generally work in hospitals and emergency environments and provide care for patients before, during and after their operation or procedure, including taking a history, performing physical examinations, and using diagnostic data to identify relevant problems.
The government’s ambition is to increase training places for AAs and PAs, with 1,000 PAs being trained each year from 2023/24 and 250 AAs being trained each year from 2024/25.
The proposals will help provide a template for future reforms to support the NHS and improve access for patients.
There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS helping to ease winter pressures and we will publish a comprehensive workforce strategy this year to help recruit and retain more staff, with independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in five, 10- and 15-years’ time.
- The consultation in March 2021 received over 500 responses from individuals, organisations, healthcare professionals and members of the public. Responses to the consultation showed clear support for plans.
- Today’s consultation will be open until 11:45pm on 16 May 2023 and can be found on gov.uk. Healthcare professionals, organisations and members of the public are encouraged to respond.
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