Peter Marshall was delighted when he finally got an appointment after calling his GP surgery for several days.
On the day, he saw a young medic who said his excruciating stomach pain was caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and suggested over-the-counter peppermint tablets to ease the discomfort.
And off the 69-year-old retired IT specialist went, happy to have a diagnosis and treatment.
In fact, Peter hadn't had an appointment with a GP — he had been seen by a physician associate (PA).
This is a type of healthcare worker whose numbers are about to soar in the NHS in order to reduce the pressure on doctors so that they can concentrate on the most complex and seriously ill patients.
It all sounds like a great idea. Indeed, PAs are now being employed across areas that are particularly stretched, with around a third of PAs working in GP surgeries and 10% in A&E departments, according to the latest census by the Royal College of Physicians. But they are actually spread across 46 NHS specialties, from urology and surgery to cardiology and mental health.
In this role, they are permitted to carry out a range of medical tasks, from performing physical examinations, diagnosing patients and analysing test results to running clinics and performing minor procedures — as well as doing home visits — all under the supervision of a doctor.
However, in the case of Peter Marshall, although he was reassured by his diagnosis, his symptoms were, in fact, a sign of bowel cancer — and he died nine months later, in January this year.
His sister, who has told Good Health his story, says: 'My brother had no idea that he had seen a PA and not a qualified doctor — he didn't know the word physician associate even existed, no one does.'
The family, from London, later received an apology from the PA. 'Patients are so desperate to get an appointment with their GP, you are grateful to see anyone and whatever they say, you accept,' she says.
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Source: Daily Mail, 9 October 2023