Re: Helen Salisbury: Blurring the boundaries of the medical profession

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Dear Editor

Helen Salisbury expresses her anxiety about how the GMC uses the term ‘medical professional’, and about what it means. I’d like to offer some clarification on this point.

We use ‘medical professional’ to collectively describe all the professionals we will regulate in future. This is in preference to always separately listing out each individual role, which would make certain documents hard to read. The term is not a protected title, and it is not defined in law. In contrast, it remains emphatically the case that the term ‘registered medical practitioner’ applies only to doctors. This is defined in the Medical Act 1983, and is a protected term in law. It is a criminal offence – and a breach of professional standards if the individual is regulated – for a person to falsely use a protected title.

Since 2019 we have engaged a range of stakeholders – including the BMA, medical royal colleges, members of the profession and patients – to help us settle on our approach and terminology, including through our recent consultation on the review of Good medical practice. Throughout there has been strong agreement that PAs and AAs should be held to the same high standards as doctors. That is why, in line with other multi-profession regulators, we decided to apply Good medical practice to all the professions we regulate. Good Medical Practice directly addresses issues around working within competence and being honest about experience, qualifications, and current role.

We will also only use the term ‘medical professionals’ sparingly and when appropriate to the circumstances, for example when referring to the collective professionals we regulate. The professional titles of medical practitioners, physician associates and anaesthesia associates will continue to be separate and distinct, as well as protected in law.

Of course, PAs and AAs have very different roles and responsibilities to doctors. It is therefore very important to help patients and the wider healthcare team understand more about PAs and AAs, the limits of their competencies, and how their training, scope of practice and capabilities differ from doctors. We are developing a prefix for the seven-digit GMC reference number which, along with prominent labelling of profession type on our public-facing registers, will mean that in future when patients search our registers it will be very clear whether an individual is a doctor, a PA or an AA. And the professional standards that will apply to PAs and AAs once regulation starts say that ‘you must always be honest about your experience, qualifications, and current role’. Our communication and engagement activity with all the groups we work with, including patients, will make that very clear.

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