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Prescribing powers proposed for new NHS support workers

Published on 04/11/05 at 04:16pm

Around 3,000 new healthcare support workers will provide clinical care across primary and secondary care, according to the government's latest proposals to help cut patient waiting times.

The new breed of healthcare support workers, known as Medical Care Practitioners (MCPs), will offer treatment advice and provide diagnostic testing but it is unclear whether they will have powers to prescribe.

Dr David Colin-Thome, national director of primary care at the department of health, said the government was waiting for a response to its proposals on whether to grant MCPs prescribing powers.

The proposals have been drawn up by a government steering group including the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of General Practitioners, with a response from stakeholders expected in the next few months.

MCPs will provide a similar role to junior doctors and will be supervised by senior doctors, with medical support workers, physiotherapists and nurses likely to retrain for the role.

Training will be fast-tracked into two-year courses and the government is also hoping to attract new candidates with science-orientated degrees.

In hospitals, MCPs will work in A&E departments and general medical wards while in primary care they are likely to provide support for GPs.

The new posts are being created to relieve the workload of GPs and allow them to see more patients and concentrate on more skilled work.  

In addition, it will standardise the training and skills of the growing number of support workers, which provide clinical care across the country.

Dr Mary Armitage, clinical vice president of the Royal College of Physicians, said there was a desperate need to regulate the training of support workers, like medical assistants and healthcare practitioners, whose training can vary from two weeks to two years.

"This framework defines the role, scope of practice, and the skills and knowledge required," added Dr Armitage.

With no central funding, individual PCTs - many of whom have stretched budgets  - will have to decide the number of MCPs it needs and where to employ them.

The roles have been modelled on physician assistants (PAs), who have been operating in the US for forty years - there are currently 23 US PAs working in the UK.

The first group of UK MCPs are undergoing training, with the government anticipating up to 100 MCPs working in each Strategic Health Authority (SHA) over the next few years.





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