A delegation comprising of senior doctors, members of the Scottish Executive and cash-strapped NHS health boards are in San Francisco for up to a fortnight at cost of taxpayers to try to hire 20 physicians' assistants. They are trying to recruit staff under a controversial new plan to combat the shortage of physicians.
With hundreds of junior doctors from overseas who trained and worked in Scotland are facing deportation because of changes in immigration rules, this news regarding the trip and US efforts has angered the opposition politicians and health care workers. They have accused the executive of wasting money. They also expressed fear regarding the safety of patients.
Margaret Davidson, chief executive of the Patients Association in Scotland, said that this was another example of health service inefficiency. She said that the taxpayers will be confused as to why they are spending thousands of pounds sending a delegation to America to recruit assistants who are not as well qualified as the hundreds of doctors who long to stay and work in Scotland.
The US-trained assistants are being recruited for a two-year pilot scheme to help hospital doctors and general practitioners. If the scheme is successful, it will spread across the country. The project will allow newly qualified science graduates to carry out minor operations after only one or two years of medical training.
It was explained that Pas were commonly used in America, these people assist in surgery, conduct physical examinations, provide patient education and preventative health counselling and are licensed to prescribe medication and they are always supervised by senior medical staff. But some years back after a similar such a pilot scheme; doubts were raised about the lack of the adequate supervision for the assistants. This is felt to be of a greater magnitude as Scotland is supposedly facing a more acute shortage of consultants.
There is a general fear among critics that the scheme it would create a new breed of health worker who was 'not a nurse, not quite a doctor but working on the functions of a senior house officer', which is a middle-grade physician. One consultant while stating his fears that the assistants would effectively be used as junior doctors added that it was an attempt to provide medical care cheaper due to their lower training costs and pay.
It was reported that the US-trained assistants would work in Scotland in hospital accident and emergency departments and GP surgeries in the Western Isles, Lanarkshire, Grampian, Highland, Lothian and Tayside areas. Shona Robison, the SNP shadow Health Minister, felt that the taxpayers' money could be better spent on recruiting and retaining doctors here in Scotland, particularly at a time when they may lose a number of non-EU junior doctors due to new Home Office rules.
Nanette Milne, the Tory health spokeswoman, said that while there was a need for an urgent action to address workforce issues, she felt that the patients would be alarmed if the person operating on them was anything less than a qualified doctor. Andy Kerr, the Health Minister, said there was evidence that PAs made a valuable contribution he explained that they are trained to undertake physical examinations, diagnose illness, develop and carry out treatment plans, order and interpret laboratory tests, suture lacerations and apply casts. He added that if the scheme was successful the PS could then be trained in the NHS in Scotland.
Meanwhile, there was a large pressure building on the Department of Health and the Home Office to issue urgent clarification on the status of overseas doctors. Hundreds of junior doctors in Scotland, who have spent up to £100,000 on their medical education and could have taken some of the hard-to-fill consultant posts, may be deported within months, it was reported. Critics have said that the hasty change to the immigration rules would make the UK less attractive to medical students from abroad and would harm patient care.