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The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced the convening of an emergency meeting within the next eight weeks to address concerns regarding the role and regulation of physician associates.

The extraordinary general meeting will take place on Wednesday 13 March 2024 between 5.30 and 7.30pm both virtually and at the RCP in Regent’s Park. The meeting will debate issues relating to the physician associate profession. Voting and motion details will be circulated shortly. 

While college byelaws restrict voting to RCP fellows only, all subscribing physician members will have an opportunity to share their views in a survey to be circulated shortly.

In announcing the Extraordinary General Meeting, the RCP acknowledged the diverse opinions surrounding PAs, particularly among its members, and intends to conduct a comprehensive survey of doctors on the matter. The findings of this survey will be disseminated through papers distributed before the emergency meeting.

The RCP affirmed its position through an official statement:
“Our consensus statement and recent bulletin clearly outline the RCP’s position on physician associates. In summary, the RCP council supports the PA role, but emphasizes that PAs are not intended to replace doctors; rather, they function as supplementary members of the multidisciplinary healthcare team.

The RCP remains committed to utilizing all available resources to improve NHS working environments, training design and delivery, and doctor retention.”

A previous RCP consensus statement acknowledged the diversity of perspectives surrounding the PA profession and the need for addressing existing issues. The statement highlighted the importance of clearer communication regarding the scope of practice and supervision of PAs for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Furthermore, the statement acknowledged the negative impact of ongoing discussions on the well-being of many healthcare professionals currently working within the NHS, emphasizing the need for systemic improvements to address the long-standing pressures faced by the healthcare system.

Despite the RCP’s support for the PA role, data from the British Medical Association (BMA) suggests that nearly 90% of those surveyed express concerns regarding the potential risks posed to patients by the current utilization of PAs and anaesthesia associates within the NHS.

The BMA recently launched a campaign to raise awareness among Members of Parliament (MPs) about these concerns and to caution against blurring the lines between medical doctors and non-medical personnel through GMC regulation of PA roles. The Doctors Association UK (DAUK) also voiced similar concerns and criticized the government for failing to facilitate open discussion on this matter within the House of Commons.

DAUK co-chair Dr. Matt Kneale emphasized the significance of the upcoming emergency meeting, viewing it as an opportunity to shape the RCP’s official stance on PAs.

The Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA), a professional body hosted by the RCP, offers support and guidance to physician associates. Currently, the FPA maintains a voluntary register of PAs, though government legislation seeks to transfer regulatory responsibility to the General Medical Council (GMC).

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