How do we alleviate the pressure on Physician Associates in Primary Care?
As most people are well aware, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the NHS at the moment, including primary care. Within the primary care setting, GPs seem to end up being the focal point of who is being put under the most pressure. We can all agree that GPs are under immense pressure, but other clinical professionals are too. Particularly, at the moment at least, Physician Associates.
The role of the Physician Associate
Physician Associates are fantastic clinical professionals who can help to lighten the workload of GPs and other staff in general practice. However, their one big limiting factor is that they cannot prescribe, meaning that they are dependent on GPs to do this aspect of the role for them. Now, this isn’t down to the choice of Physician Associates, whom by all accounts would love to be independent prescribers! Instead, it is their governing body and the ‘powers that be’ that have not yet green-lit courses for Physician Associates to prescribe. Despite this, Physician Associates still bring a great deal to the table in terms of what they can do for patients and how they can help them.
Physician Associates are under similar pressures to GPs in many ways, but the biggest pressure put on them, I believe, is from patients whom they see face-to-face. The more conversations I have had with Physician Associates recently, the more pressure that seems to be being put on them in terms of patient expectations. I’ve heard some sad stories about rude patients who make it really rather obvious that they are not happy about seeing a Physician Associate and would much prefer to see a GP. In some cases, patients have simply walked out of a consultation upon realising they are seeing a Physician Associate, in others it is as though they do not believe a Physician Associate has any clinical knowledge whatsoever and they are spoken to extremely degradingly.
A recent Panorama episode looking into Physician Associates didn’t help either, as instead of looking at the positives that these clinicians can bring to the table, it decided to nit-pick every tiny issue it could find and magnify them completely disproportionately! Surely, it would have been better at a time like this for Panorama to help GP surgeries out and help patients to see that there are more than just GPs in general practice who can help them. There’s already enough pressure on general practice without Physician Associates having to explain what they are and what they do to unappreciative patients.
What seems so amazing is the dogmatic attitude of some patients who cannot simply appreciate being in the presence of a clinical professional and a very knowledgeable clinical professional at that! Physician Associates haven’t been around in primary care for very long, all things considered. They are making a big difference though. If a patient is open to seeing a Physician Associate instead of a GP, perhaps due to waiting times for an appointment, nine times out of ten a Physician Associate can help to identify the issue.
What I really want to emphasise is that Physician Associates are genuinely fantastic clinical additions to primary care and if a patient wants to be seen sooner than the many days or even weeks it can take to see a GP, more often than not, a Physician Associate can help with whatever the issue may be. Just be sure to respect them as the highly qualified clinical professionals they are.
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