Innovative University and NHS training partnership addresses doctor shortages

A training partnership between Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD), Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Weston Area Health NHS Trust and Yeovil District Hospital, believed to be the first of its kind, has been announced.

PUPSMD has introduced a postgraduate Diploma in Physician Associate Studies. Physician associates are a new healthcare workforce in the UK and much needed in a changing NHS. There are a number of factors that have increased the need for physician associates - for example, the harmonisation of the Foundation Programme will take junior doctors out of acute hospitals over the next few years into community placements for training; and there will be a peak of GP retirement in the next few years, yet not enough GPs are being trained to meet the demand. There are also specialties in the acute trusts where the maintenance of a safe service for patients is challenging with the current level of provision of the medical workforce.

While the role of physician associate is new in the UK, it is well-established in other countries, such as the United States. Physician associates are healthcare professionals who, while not doctors, work to the medical model of clinical diagnosis, with the attitudes, skills and knowledge base to deliver holistic care and treatment within the general care team under defined levels of supervision. The role is designed to supplement the medical workforce, thereby improving patient access.

The partnership sees three South West NHS trusts sponsoring five places on the course each, with Yeovil District Hospital sponsoring two places and Weston Area Health NHS Trust three. The trusts will pay fees in exchange for a two-year employment contract post-graduation. It is believed that this is the first time that such a partnership has been established between NHS trusts and a university.

Entry to the two-year course is open to candidates who have a first degree in a biomedical or health science subject (2:1 and above) and/or current healthcare professionals educated to degree level. A masters can be taken on successful completion of the diploma.

Professor Alison Carr, Director of Postgraduate Education at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said: 

“Our decision to introduce a Diploma in Physician Associate Studies will help to address an existing and looming shortfall in care provision across the UK. We believe that this is the first time such a course has been supported by hospital trusts who are combining payment of fees with the promise of a work contract on graduation. This is a truly ‘joined up’ approach and one which has attracted a lot of interest from colleagues around the country.”

Dr Phil Hughes, Medical Director at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: 

"We are sponsoring five students to undertake the PA diploma. We believe this will be a critical support for future medical care and look forward to the opportunity of contributing to and benefiting from this exciting development."

Dr John Lowes, Interim Chief Executive at South Devon Healthcare Trust, said:  

"We are delighted to be a part of this innovative partnership between Plymouth University and local NHS trusts.  We believe the programme will really enhance our medical workforce, particularly the focus on extensive patient contact throughout the two year period.  We look forward to welcoming the first cohort of graduates to Torbay Hospital.”

Applications for these supported places close on 20 November 2014. More information is available by calling 01752 437333 or emailing meddent-admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.