GMC says that it should regulate physician associates

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  12 Dec 2017

The General Medical Council has said that it should regulate medical associate professions, including physician associates, as long as this didn’t increase doctors’ fees.

In response to a government consultation on the regulation of medical associate professions (MAPs) the GMC said it would be well placed to accept regulatory responsibility for this staff group.[1]

Physician associates, physicians’ assistants in anaesthesia, surgical care practitioners, and advanced critical care practitioners are all classed as MAPs.

The GMC said that it could take on MAP regulation as long as the government provides transitional funding to cover its set-up, because doctors could not be expected to cover the costs.

It also said that the long term regulation of MAPs needed to be financially sustainable. “Doctors cannot be expected to incur additional costs through their annual retention fees for the ongoing regulation of MAPs,” the GMC said.

The regulator also said that if MAPs received statutory regulation they should therefore be able to prescribe. “This would alleviate pressures on doctors and other professionals with prescribing rights, so that individual professional skill sets are best utilised,” the GMC said.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said, “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.”

The faculty of physician associates at the Royal College of Physicians has long called for regulation.[2] Responding to the GMC’s comments, Jeannie Watkins, president of the faculty said that the GMC understood the standards required 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,” Watkins said. “The GMC would therefore be a natural fit to regulate physician associates.”

Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “We support the need for statutory regulation of MAPs, to ensure there is the necessary competence, accountability, and safety of care provided by these healthcare professionals.

“We believe, however, that that the regulation of doctors should be separate from that of other healthcare workers and providers. This is to ensure that the complexities of the medical profession, which has different training structures, career routes, and responsibilities to other professions, are adequately recognised and taken into account.”

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.


  1. Department of Health. The regulation of medical associate professions in the UK. [Link] .
  2. Rimmer A. Five minute with . . . Jeannie Watkins. BMJ  2017;359:j4801. [Link]   [Link] .

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

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