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Physician Associates – the talk of the town

Published: 21 June, 2015

As Jeremy Hunt announces that pilots are planned to ensure 1,000 Physicians’ Associates will be available to work in general practice by September 2020 (read his speech) a new study signals their potential to strengthen the primary care workforce.

“So, just what are Physician Associates, and what is their role?” you ask.

According to the NHS Careers site PAs support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients.  They are trained to perform a number of roles including taking medical histories, performing examinations, diagnosing illnesses, analysing test results and developing management plans.  They work under the direct supervision of a doctor.

So it is fascinating to see the data coming out of a newly published observational study of 2,086 patient records in 12 general practices in England by Drennan et al. This was independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research.


The study found that the processes and outcomes of Physician Associate and GP consultations for same-day appointments are similar at a lower consultation cost. Physician Associates offer a potentially acceptable and efficient addition to the general practice workforce.

  • There were no significant differences in the rates of re-consultation
  • There were no differences in rates of diagnostic tests ordered, referrals, prescriptions issued, or in rates of Patient satisfaction
  • Records of initial consultations of 79.2% (n = 145) of Physician Associates and 48.3% (n = 99) of GPs were judged appropriate by independent GPs (P<0.001).
  • The adjusted average Physician Associate consultation was 5.8 minutes longer than the GP consultation
  • The cost per consultation was £6.22 lower

The researchers conclude:

“Deployment of PAs to attend patients, aligned with their competencies, could free up GP time to concentrate on more complex cases. PAs have the potential to be an asset to the primary care workforce in healthcare systems looking to strengthen their primary healthcare provision in the face of shortages of doctors, increasing demands, and financial stringency.”

Locally, the University of Reading is launching a Postgraduate Diploma Physician Associate programme for first entry in September 2015


Physician associates and GPs in primary care: a comparison, BJGP 1 May 2015, vol. 65 no. 634 e344-e350.

Last updated: 21 May, 2018

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