NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Aberdeen physician associates set to graduate amid growing interest

Jenna Lumsden and Natasha O'Hagan
Image caption Physician associate Natasha O'Hagan has been helping patient Jenna Lumsden

A new breed of health professionals are about to graduate in Aberdeen - and the venture is already attracting interest from other Scottish health boards.

The physician associates are not doctors, but they can do most things that junior doctors can.

Scotland's first such pilot programme is being run jointly by NHS Grampian and the University of Aberdeen.

The physician associates work under the supervision of a doctor.

The two-year training course is for students who already have a science undergraduate degree, and is then followed by a one-year internship.

There are thought to be about 100,000 such physician associates in America, where the post has its roots.

Prof Steve Heys, the director of the course, told BBC Scotland: "They are not doctors on the cheap. It's an expansion."

He explained: "More and more people are requiring care for a variety of illnesses, many of which are now treatable but which require care for many years or for the whole of the patients' lives.

"The new physician assistants will make a major contribution to healthcare provision and will also enhance the quality of care provided."

'Extra time'

Patient Jenna Lumsden said of her experience with physician associate Natasha O'Hagan: "It was nice seeing a friendly face - someone giving you the facts."

Her physician associate said: "We have that little bit extra time with a patient."

A spokesperson for BMA Scotland said: "Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals already work together to provide care for patients in Scotland and physician assistants could provide an intermediate level of care and help reduce the workload of an understaffed workforce.

"Although care that only doctors can deliver should only be delivered by doctors, there are many things that are currently done by doctors that need not be.

"All healthcare professionals, including doctors, should be aware of the limits of their competence and always practice within them."

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