Unique Staffordshire primary care internship programme takes centre stage alongside the best in the country

A ground-breaking Staffordshire intern programme has been selected as a finalist at this year’s Health Service Journal (HSJ) Value Awards and the pioneers of the programme will be going to Manchester Central at the end of this month (Thursday 23 May) to find out if it’s judged ‘Primary Care Initiative of the Year’.

The Staffordshire Physician Associate Internship, brain-child of the North Staffordshire GP Federation, is a unique programme that trains a new breed of healthcare professional – physician associates – who work in GP practices and hospitals providing longer appointment times to patients to help manage long-term conditions like diabetes.

Out of hundreds of entries, nine projects and initiatives from across the country were selected as finalists in the ‘Primary Care Initiative of the Year’ category alongside the local programme. 

Elita Unyolo recently graduated the Staffordshire Physician Associate Internship and now works from the Moorcroft Medical Centre. She said: “The freedom offered by being a physician associate is great. Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are at the forefront when it comes to being a physician associate. None of the other internships that exist provide the teaching aspect, and the fact that you can work in both primary and secondary care is fantastic. Physician associates can offer a lot to a GP practice or other NHS healthcare provider; likewise, the teaching, training and supervision you receive in this patch is excellent.”

Dr Mark Williams MBChB MRCGP, Clinical Director, Moorcroft Medical Centre said: “My experience of physician associates has been wholly positive. Elita, a physician associate who works at Moorcroft Medical Centre, is a valued member of the clinical team. She is positive, hardworking and dedicated to patients and self-development. She receives great feedback from staff and patients. Like all great clinicians, she has found areas within the practice that needed further development and dedicated herself to improving these. Not only has she focused on improving the practice now, but she also considers how it could develop in the future and is a passionate advocate for the expansion and further development of the physician associate role.”

Alex Scrivens-Joyce, Physician Associate Ambassador said: “In the relatively short time since it was launched, we now have 17 physician associates working across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, with more on the way.

“All of them are helping to bolster general practice, and acute and mental health care locally. That’s extremely rewarding for me and a real feather in the cap for the local system here to have the only programme like this in the UK.”

Dr Ken Deacon, Medical Director, NHS England and Improvement said: “Physician associates are a relatively new role in the NHS having started in the USA as long as 50 years ago. Today there are around 350 working in both secondary and primary care and a further 550 in training.

“At the moment only 20% of trained physician associates join GPs in primary care but this is set to change to achieve our vision that 1,000 will be working in primary care alongside GPs by 2020. The Staffordshire programme – currently the only one of its kind in the UK – is leading the way in making this happen.

“Physician associates are trained in the ‘Medical Model’ the same as the doctors they work with. This means they can assess patients across the breadth of their problems, giving a far more rounded and holistic management plan. The physician associate can provide health care for patients at any stage in their life, with any condition; much like the GP. Having physician associates working with GPs not only provides additional capacity but also complements the service GPs provide.”

Amy Beeton, Portfolio Lead for Primary Care (Midlands and East), Health Education England, said: “The Staffordshire internship model successfully embeds skills and confidence for the physician’s associate to move into the primary pare workforce.

“Health Education England has supported STPs to develop further preceptorship/internship programmes and individual GP practices to recruit and develop physician associates via a preceptorship year. In its first year, this approach is already significantly improving the numbers of physician associates into General Practice: from 36 in December 2018, to 75 by March 2019.

In addition, Health Education England has developed a PA Ambassador (PAA) programme and currently has seven PAAs in the Midlands who are experienced physician associates working with HEI’s, GP practices and physician associate students to raise awareness of the role of physician associates and increase the number of physician associates working in primary care.”

Attending the HSJ Value Awards ceremony on behalf of the North Staffordshire GP Federation is Dr Sharon Turner, Clinical Lead, Lucy Minshull, Project Manager with Rebecca Woods from NHSE (Midlands East).

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