Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

A promotional poster featuring a physician associate in Bradford has misrepresented a physician associate as a ‘physician’, causing an online backlash.

It features a smiling woman, identified as ‘Lily, Physician in Bradford’, who is wearing a Faculty of Physician Associates lanyard. The poster has a headline reading ‘the physician will see you now’.
The poster goes on to say that ‘Not everyone needs to see a doctor. Your GP practice will make sure you speak to the right person as quickly as possible.’

The poster is part of a campaign called ‘It’s a GP practice thing’ run by Bradford District Craven Health and Care Partnership.

The term ‘physician’ is a protected title under the law. All medical doctors practising medicine in the UK must have a licence to practise and registration with the GMC. It is illegal for anyone to claim or infer that they are registered with the GMC as a medical doctor when they are not.

PAs are not medical doctors. PAs are trained to provide care as a PA, with supervision from a senior doctor (GMC-registered consultant or GP).

Dr Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford), who first bought the poster to attention on social media, said she is ‘simply horrified to see NHS England now literally breaking the law in how it misrepresents physician associates & other allied health professional – who are NOT doctors – to the public’.

Dr Clarke is a British writer and physician, specialising in end of life care. She is the author of Breathtaking, an account of working inside the NHS during the UK’s first wave of COVID-19, that was recently adapted into a TV series of the same name.

Dr Clarke continued: ‘Physician” is a title that’s protected in law – to protect you, the public, from the dangers of fake doctors masquerading as the real thing. Legally, only a qualified doctor with a medical degree can call themselves a physician. This runs entirely counter to the NHS duty of candour. Its dishonest. It’s taking huge risks with patient safety.’

  • The Medical Act (1983) is the law which governs the regulation and credentials of medical doctors in the UK, and defines offences in respect of unregistered and unlicensed practice. Under the Medical Act, it is illegal for someone to falsely use the following protected titles to imply that they are a registered medical practitioner if they are not:
  • doctor of medicine
  • general practitioner (GP)
  • surgeon
  • physician
  • licentiate in medicine and surgery
  • bachelor of medicine
  • apothecary
  • any name, title or description implying that they are registered as a medical doctor with the GMC.

The title Doctor on its own is not a protected title as it can be an academic qualification (eg a PhD), not always linked to the practice of medicine. Therefore, a person can legitimately use the title Doctor without needing registration with the GMC, as long as they are not practising medicine or claiming to have registration with the GMC.

PAs who hold an accredited and recognised level 8 equivalent doctorate degree and work in academia are entitled to use the prefix ‘Dr’ or title ‘Doctor’ when working in an academic context/environment. The FPA advises that PAs using the prefix ‘Dr’ in an academic setting should also use their postnominal qualification to clearly identify their qualifications. The FPA state that PAs must not use the prefix ‘Dr’ or title ‘doctor’ in any clinical environment or interaction with patients, because this could be confusing or misleading for a patient. Doctor of medicine’ is a legally protected title and the public would reasonably assume that anyone introducing themselves as ‘doctor’ in a healthcare setting meant a ‘doctor of medicine’.

Following recent guidance from the Faculty of Physician Associates, it is clear that PAs must not use protected titles or abbreviations which may imply that they are registered with the GMC as a medical doctor.

With statutory regulation of Physician Associates by the General Medical Council coming in December 2024, the term ‘physician associate’ will become a protected title in law. Therefore, it will become an offence 2 years after that point for anyone to claim they are a physician associate if they are not a properly registered PA with the GMC.

The Twitter/X account for Bradford District and Craven health and care partnership (@ActAsOneBDC) responded by saying: “We have been made aware of mistakes in our ‘It’s a GP Practice Thing’ campaign. We are updating materials to ensure they are accurate and use correct titles for colleagues in General Practice teams. Thank you to all those who have shown care and compassion when feeding back.”

In a previous tweet, the BDC team thanks Dr Clarke and others who have been in touch about the poster: “We are truly sorry that we’ve not updated all the materials. We will be working hard to do so as quickly as we can. We would of course welcome any support to get the wording right pls email”

The PA+PER has reached out to BDC partnership for comment.

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