More than 2,800 doctors have signed a letter to the General Medical Council (GMC) over fears the proposed regulation of physician associates (PAs) will undermine healthcare standards and put patients’ safety at risk.

The letter from the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) urged the GMC to reconsider the plans, describing them as “unsafe, premature, and lacking the necessary safeguards”.

DAUK said the GMC needed to address “the inconsistency between the stringent requirements” for doctors to be regulated and the proposed transition for PAs and anaesthesia associates (AAs), which will see them “moved to a statutory GMC register without undergoing equally rigorous checks”.

In their open letter, DAUK co-chairs Dr Matt Kneale and Ms Helen Fernandes said proposals to assign PAs and AAs with a registration number similar to those used for medical doctors risked creating “unnecessary confusion” and “muddling the distinct roles of various healthcare professionals”.

“This ambiguity could inadvertently foster scope creep, putting patients at risk due to uncertainty about practitioners’ qualifications,” they said.

“Furthermore, the absence of a clearly defined scope of practice for PAs and AAs, set by the GMC, is alarming.

“Allowing local settings to establish these boundaries could lead to further confusion and possible exploitation of both doctors and PAs, as well as compromise patient safety.”

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The DAUK has set out four recommendations in its letter:

  • The GMC should immediately inform the Government about the growing discontent and advocate for reopening the consultation process with the Department of Health and Social Care
  • If the regulation of PAs by the GMC goes ahead, distinct GMC numbers should be allocated to PAs to distinguish them from medical doctors
  • All PAs transferring from the voluntary Royal College of Physicians register to the GMC’s statutory register must undergo thorough verification and checks, especially with regard to Fitness to Practise procedures
  • The GMC must establish a clearly defined scope of practice for PAs and AAs, eliminating the option for these to be set locally.

Dr Kneale added:

“We urge the GMC to immediately address these critical issues, maintain the high healthcare standards the public rightly demands, and request that the Department of Health and Social Care put the brakes on the issue and reopen the consultation on physician associates and anaesthesia associates regulation.”

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