Physician assistants have improved the delivery of health care in the United States, and other countries have introduced the profession. Etienne Laverse considers whether this new breed of healthcare professional could solve the problem of doctor shortages in the NHS
The shortage of doctors has always been a global issue. The United States successfully responded to this challenge in the 1960s by developing a professional body that has since been proved to be essential to the medical profession: physician assistants (PAs). China undertook a similar measure and trained over a million “barefoot doctors” to help deliver health care at the same time.1 Presently, there are more than 44 000 PAs in the US, and numbers are projected to exceed 75 000 by 2015.2 They have also been employed since the 1990s in the Canadian forces and similar paramedical healthcare providers exist in India.
The interest in PAs in the United Kingdom has been present for a while and is now intensifying. The NHS and the Royal College of Physicians have actively supported introducing PAs in the UK, calling for an early start of pilot projects. They recognise that the NHS