Regulation of medical associates will bolster workforce, says GMC

Press Release

11 Dec 2017

Medical associate professions (MAPs) could grow to dramatically strengthen health services if regulated, the General Medical Council (GMC) has said.

As medical associates work closely with doctors, we believe there is a strong argument that we should accept responsibility for them. We are in a good place to do this.

Charlie Massey, our Chief Executive

Responding to a consultation by the Department of Health (England), the GMC has said regulation would help the four roles* reach their full potential as a professional group while ensuring patient safety.

The GMC has added that it would be well-placed to accept regulatory responsibility for MAPs, providing the Government agrees:

  • they are seen as a single profession with different areas of practice under a flexible, future-proofed legal framework
  • funding to cover the GMC’s costs of setting up their regulation. The GMC is clear that doctors should not subsidise these costs or the ongoing regulation of MAPs.
  • a timetable that allows for a ‘smooth transition’, with the regulation of the four roles happening in stages rather than all at once.

The Government’s consultation asks whether MAPs should be regulated by the GMC or the Health and Care Professions Council.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: ‘Our health services must be dynamic to meet the changing needs of patients and we believe a range of new professionals with varied skillsets must be part of the solution.

‘It’s down to the four UK governments to decide which of these roles should be regulated and by whom.

‘However, as medical associates work closely with doctors, we believe there is a strong argument that we should accept responsibility for them. We are in a good place to do this, providing the Government gives us funding and the underlying legislation is fit enough for modern healthcare.

‘Regulating these roles as a single profession rather than four separate groups would mean that we could help to grow a new profession, one that has the potential to increase their support for doctors who we know continue to face huge strains on their time.

‘This is one more way that we could make a positive contribution to the current challenges facing doctors and healthcare services in each UK country.’

Charlie Massey added that the GMC would stay focused on its reforms aimed at improving doctors’ professional lives through the modernisation of its fitness to practise procedures, streamlining the requirements of appraisal and revalidation, and keeping the cost of registration as low as possible.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said in its response to the consultation:

'We believe there is real value in developing MAPs as a coherent group working very closely with doctors. For that reason we believe there is a strong case for MAPs to be regulated by the GMC to ensure a consistency and commonality of approach. The Academy believes that it would be highly unsatisfactory to have a fragmented system with some MAPs regulated by one regulator, some by another and possibly some not all.

‘It also has to be recognised that there are concerns amongst some medical staff of MAPs taking on tasks which should be undertaken by doctors. If the GMC regulates MAPs it will be able to ensure the appropriate balance of responsibilities.’

Jeannie Watkins, president of the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said:

‘The GMC has a long history and wealth of experience in regulating doctors, and understands the standards required both educationally and professionally to deliver safe, competent high quality medical care to patients.

‘Regulation from the GMC would help provide professional credibility and inspire confidence in both our healthcare colleagues and most importantly patients. The GMC would therefore be a natural fit to regulate physician associates.’

The Department of Health is expected to release a report on the outcome of its consultation in 2018. The consultation will remain open until Friday 22 December 2017.       

Notes to editors

Read our full consultation response.

*The four medical associate professions (MAPs) are:

  • Physician associates work alongside doctors to diagnose patients, perform examinations, take medical histories, analyse test results and develop management plans
  • Surgical care practitioners administer some surgical procedures, pre and post-operative care under a consultant’s supervision
  • Advanced critical care practitioners diagnose and treat patients in critical care units. They make high-level clinical decisions and refer cases on to specialists when necessary.
  • Physician assistants (anaesthesia) deliver anaesthesia and critical care, perform post-operative assessments and interventions under the supervision of a consultant anaesthetist

About the GMC

The General Medical Council (GMC) is an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK.

  • We decide which doctors are qualified to work here and we oversee UK medical education and training.
  • We set the standards that doctors need to follow, and make sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.
  • We take action when we believe a doctor may be putting the safety of patients, or the public's confidence in doctors, at risk.

We are not here to protect doctors - their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect the public.

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