Physician associates recruited from America to support Suffolk GPs as staffing problems cause ‘severe pressures’

Physician associates work under the supervision of a doctor and they can help with a number of medic

Physician associates work under the supervision of a doctor and they can help with a number of medical tasks. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos - Credit: PA

Doctors’ surgeries in Suffolk are hiring paramedics and bringing in reinforcements from America as bosses look at “creative” ways to fill staffing gaps.

Amanda Lyes, chief corporate services officer for Suffolk CCG. Picture: SUFFOLK NHS

Amanda Lyes, chief corporate services officer for Suffolk CCG. Picture: SUFFOLK NHS - Credit: SUFFOLK NHS

A medical director has said general practices in the county are under “severe pressure” as fewer people are choosing to enter the profession due to fears of cuts and rising workloads.

As a result, commissioners in Suffolk have followed the lead of other NHS teams across the country and appointed a handful of physician associates (PA) from America to work in surgeries. PAs are supervised by a doctor and are able to obtain medical records, perform examinations, diagnose illnesses and analyse test results.

Amanda Lyes, chief corporate services officer for Suffolk’s two Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), said: “In light of the demographics changing locally, our approach to workforce development within primary care has to be more creative, more innovative and looking at how roles can be delivered differently. We are being proactive to the emerging problems ahead.

“It might well be a PA is more attractive than maybe difficulties recruiting GPs. We are also looking to appoint more paramedics to support primary care.”

Paul Driscoll, medical director and chairman of Suffolk GP Federation. Picture: SUFFOLK GP FEDERATIO

Paul Driscoll, medical director and chairman of Suffolk GP Federation. Picture: SUFFOLK GP FEDERATION - Credit: SUFFOLK GP FEDERATION

In Ipswich and east Suffolk, just 7% of GPs are under the age of 35.

Mrs Lyes said commissioners were working closely with the University of East Anglia and Anglia Ruskin University, which both offer a PA course, to get graduates into Suffolk general practice. The CCGs are also trying to get more local nursing students interested in a career in primary care.

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Paul Driscoll, medical director and chairman of Suffolk GP Federation, welcomed the drive.

He said: “GP practices in Suffolk are working under severe pressure and this is often linked to difficulties surrounding the recruitment of health professionals. Any initiative that looks to tackle that is welcome.

“There is no doubt that negative publicity surrounding general practice – a lack of funds and rising workloads for example – has had an effect.

“Last year the total number of GPs fell nationally and more and more senior partners are seeking early retirement.

“However, here in Suffolk we have committed and caring clinicians who are willing to embrace change and we should be positive about what we can achieve.”