London GP Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party says NHS plans to use more physician associates to plug staffing shortages could be helpful if the associates are used correctly, but their introduction also raises serious concerns:
"I think like many ideas that could be good, when seen in the context of cost-cutting, it is a worrying development.
"It is similar to the downgrading of the skill mix where nurses are replaced by health care assistants. And while physician associates could have a useful role, just as health care assistants can, it would be worrying if they were used as substitutes for doctors instead of assisting them and end up being 'doctors on the cheap'. It’s crucial that the proposed training and role definition of physicians’ associates are made clear. I think many patients would be worried at the prospect of being treated by a science graduate with just 2 years medical training to their name.
"In the current climate, where we are short of thousands of GPs and where are not enough doctors in many specialties, and where there is a huge drive to save money, there is a real worry that they will be used to provide medical care on the cheap and that would carry affect the quality and safety of patient care, putting patients at risk."