90% of doctors fear associates’ work poses patient safety risk

A survey has uncovered concerns regarding the hazards posed by physician associates, as well as the fact that the majority of patients are unaware of the ways in which they differ from physicians.

A survey revealed that nearly nine out of ten physicians in the United Kingdom (87 percent) believe the work of anesthesia associates (AAs) and physician associates (PAs) in the NHS “always or sometimes poses a risk to patient safety.”

An equivalent proportion (86 percent) reported that patients are oblivious to the distinction between the two positions.

The British Medical Association (BMA) conducted a survey of 18,000 physicians and cautions that a “blurring” of the distinction “has, and can, result in fatal consequences.”

Associate physicians operate under the guidance of a physician and are credentialed with two years of postgraduate study but need formal medical training. Hospitals in England employ approximately 1,500 PAs, and 1,700 work in primary care.

They perform unregulated medical assistant duties, including patient examinations, diagnosis, test result analysis, and medical history recording. According to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, administrators aim to augment the number of PAs to 10,000 by 2036/37.

Regulatory Concerns and Public Awareness

Additionally, hospitals plan to hire approximately 2,000 anesthesia associates within the same time frame, in addition to the existing 320. They provide anaesthesiologists with patient evaluations prior to surgery.

Today, the government will present legislative proposals that would permit the General Medical Council (GMC) to regulate PAs and AAs beginning at the end of the following year.

However, according to the BMA, regulating PAs and AAs through the physicians‘ watchdog would “add additional, perilous confusion to the situation.”

Approximately 10,000 physicians, according to the union, have written to their representatives in parliament urging them to oppose the legislation.

Additionally, the researchers referenced a secondary survey of 2,009 members of the public, revealing that 14% had received treatment from a PA, 57% had not, and 29% were uncertain.

Patient Safety and the Controversy Surrounding PAs and AAs

The chairman of the BMA council, Professor Philip Banfield, stated, “Doctors in the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly concerned about the repercussions of the government’s plan to increase the number of PAs and AAs in England.”

Healthcare providers must inform patients about the treatment and the expected quality of care.

“By erasing boundaries and permitting a scenario in which PAs can exceed their qualifications without the public being aware of their capabilities, both professions are devalued and run the risk of losing vital public confidence.”

“We have maintained throughout that the GMC regulates medical associate professionals inappropriately; it is the regulatory body for physicians, not these staff.”

At the end of last year, 30-year-old actress Emily Chesterton passed away from a blood embolism after a physician misdiagnosed her symptoms as anxiety and prescribed medication instead of referring her to A&E.

She had been examined twice by an associate at the GP’s practice in north London, contrary to her belief that a practitioner had seen her. Dr. Banfield further stated, “By creating the perception that PAs are capable of performing the same tasks as doctors, the government risks yet another patient safety incident.”

A physician told the BMA, “Their [PAs] fundamental knowledge is inadequate,” adding, “It is only a matter of time before one of their patients suffers severe harm.”

According to Health Education England, the clinical responsibilities and functions of PAs and AAs “cannot and will not be as extensive as those of a physician.”

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