Health minister Andrew Stephenson recently confirmed that the titles of ‘physician associate’ and ‘anesthesia associate’ will not change to ‘assistant’.
Across social media over recent months, concerns have been raised that the professional identity of physician associates may blur the distinction between doctors and non-medically qualified professionals.
The British Medical Association have been calling for the government to change the professional title back to physician assistant ‘on patient safety grounds’. Prior to 2014, PAs in the UK were known as Physician Assistants to mirror the name of the same profession in America. Anaesthesia Associates (AAs) were similarly previously known as Physician’s Assistants (Anaesthesia). The title changed to its current form of ‘associate’ in the UK almost a decade ago. PAs in America are also now in the process of changing their professional title from assistant to associate.
Regulation and growth of these roles will support plans to reduce pressure on frontline services and improve access for patients. As part of the work to deliver the Long Term Workforce Plan, NHS England continues to work with the relevant professional colleges and regulators to ensure the use of associate roles is expanded safely and effectively.
Andrew Stephenson, Minister for Health and Secondary Care
The Rt Hon Andrew Stephenson CBE MP, who is a minister for Health and Secondary Care confirmed there are no plans to alter the PA professional title.
Responding to a letter from the Labour party, Stephenson stated: ‘There are no plans to change the title of either role. The DHSC is clear that PAs and AAs are not doctors. The role of medical associates is to work with and support doctors, not to replace them.’
However, Stephenson did add that the DHSC ‘shares’ the BMA’s ‘view that all healthcare professionals must introduce themselves and explain their role to patients’.
‘This includes physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs).’
To be able to differentiate PAs from doctors on the GMC register, it was recently announced that PAs will have a prefix attached to their registration number.
The legislation needed to enable the GMC to regulate PAs and AAs was laid before Parliaments in both England and Scotland last month; GMC regulation of PAs and AAs is anticipated to take effect at the end of 2024.