Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced its decision to take legal action against the General Medical Council (GMC) regarding the regulation of physician associates (PAs). The BMA claims that the GMC’s plans could lead to a “dangerous blurring of lines” between highly skilled doctors and associate roles, potentially endangering patient safety. This co-insides with the recent announcement that the group Anaesthetists United (AU) are similarly taking legal action against the GMC for similar reasons.

The union has expressed serious concerns over the GMC’s use of the term “medical professionals” to describe both doctors and medical associate professionals (MAPs). The BMA insists that this term should be reserved exclusively for qualified doctors to avoid confusion among patients and to uphold the integrity of the medical profession.

BMA council chair, Professor Philip Banfield, revealed the legal action during the union’s Annual Representative Meeting (ARM) in Belfast yesterday. “PAs are not doctors, and we have seen the tragic consequences of what happens when this is not made clear to patients,” Banfield stated. “Everyone has the right to know who the healthcare professional they are seeing is and what they are qualified to do – and crucially, not to do.”

It seems that the BMA is persistently using this “blurred lines” tactic to intentionally confuse the public, even though clear guidance from the FPA, NHS and GMC has stipulated the requirement for clear role introduction for PAs & AAs.

Banfield emphasized that doctors are “the medical profession,” and that any other staff being described as medical professionals undermines the rigorous training doctors undergo and confuses patients. He stressed that the GMC’s primary responsibility is to protect the public from individuals pretending to be qualified doctors.

The BMA also criticized the Government’s decision to appoint the GMC as the regulator for PAs and AAs, arguing that this move devalues the medical profession and confuses patients. The union stated that the GMC is “not the right organisation” to regulate these roles, even though a thorough consultation in 2019, also voted on by doctors themselves made it very clear the only reasonable regulator would be the GMC.

The legal action follows a letter sent to the GMC as part of the pre-action protocol, which highlighted the case of Emily Chesterton, who died in November 2022 after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Chesterton had been seen by a PA on two occasions, mistakenly believing the PA to be a general practitioner (GP).

Additionally, the letter referenced the marketing campaign “It’s a GP Practice Thing,” criticized for using posters that misleadingly referred to PAs working in GP practices as “physicians.” The BMA pointed out that the professional title “physician” is protected under section 49(1) of the Medical Act 1983, and its misuse can constitute a criminal offense.

Later yesterday afternoon, Professor Banfield continued his tirade against MAPs through a discussion on BBC radio 4’s “PM” program with well-known radio presenter Evan Davies, where he continued to attempt to blur the lines that are already being established between doctors and MAPs. As their narrative continues, and sows further confusion into the debate, it runs the risk of further undermining public trust in doctors, especially the BMA given the looming junior or “resident” doctor strikes over low pay.

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