ARCH partners solving NHS workforce challenges

Swansea University is playing a key role in transforming the way healthcare is delivered. As part of ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health), the university is working with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board and Hywel Dda University Health Board to transform how healthcare is delivered and create the NHS workforce needed to deliver this vision.

The Medical School’s new Physician Associate post graduate diploma, starting in September, is one of only two of its kind in Wales. The course has been developed by Swansea University’s Medical School and the College of Human and Health Science through the ARCH partnership.

Dr Wyn Harris, the Programme Director and Honorary Associate Professor at Swansea University said: “The Physician Associate role is seen as a key part of modernising the NHS workforce and a vital step towards shaping a healthcare service fit for the 21st Century.”

Although the role is relatively new to the UK, Physician Associates are already seen as a key role in the US and have been in existence for years and are an established part of the American medical workforce.

Dr Harris added: “Physician Associates work to support doctors and take on many of the roles of a junior doctor. They are trained clinicians and can undertake initial patient assessments and carry out procedures. They are trained generally so they can work in all areas of healthcare such as medicine, surgery, paediatrics and mental health and can also work in primary or secondary care.

“Another benefit of this role is Physician Associates tend to work in a particular clinical area for a number of years which provides continuity and consistency, which is difficult to achieve with junior doctors who frequently move departments.”

Swansea University Medical School is launching its two-year course in September and has 15 funded places available. The course will teach students the knowledge and clinical skills they require to pass the National Certification Examination and start work as a Physician Associate.

How do Physician Associates fit into the NHS workforce?

Dr Harris added: “Although Physician Associates are dependent practitioners, they can also practise independently and make independent decisions. This is enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisors, meaning that there is always someone who can discuss cases, give advice, and review patients if necessary.

“The Physician Associate role is to take on tasks traditionally performed by junior doctors, they attend ward rounds, assess patients and organise aspects of the management plan.”

Professor Keith Lloyd, Dean of the Medical School, said the course was a great example of the ARCH partners delivering on their promise to transform healthcare, he said: “The structure of healthcare in Wales allows us to work closely together and this will ensure, as a Medical School, we are helping deliver the right workforce for the future NHS.

“Reshaping the NHS workforce offers many opportunities, it can deliver benefits for patients through more patient-focused care and improved health outcomes.

“Our Physician Associate students will spend the majority of year one undertaking university-based theory and practical sessions with some early clinical exposure to the working environment of the NHS. During their second year, students will mainly take up clinical placements, with students applying their learning in the care of real patients under the supervision of a clinically qualified mentor.

“Physician Associates work across a wide range of departments and a particular advantage of this role is maintaining the Physician Associate’s general knowledge which allows flexibility and transferability of skills. They can also work closely with our GPs and support chronic disease management as well as carry out urgent same-day appointments. These appointments can be triaged by the GP who then works with the Physician Associate to manage the patients, which will help relieve pressure on our primary care services.”

Professor Andrew Davies, ARCH and ABMU chair, has praised the new course being offered at Swansea University saying the collaborative approach was key to its success. Prof Davies said: “We know there is an urgent need to reshape the NHS workforce to equip it to meet the changing demand from the population it serves.

“I have always worked hard to make sure we develop the “U” in ABMU and we recognise that the university is a key partner for our two health boards and through ARCH we have been given the opportunity to develop the current workforce and also develop new roles, such as the Physician Associate.

“We have two health boards in this area but only one health economy, it is common sense we collaborate in a meaningful way to deliver transformation and develop new models of care, but we also need to create and develop the right workforce to deliver these aims.

“Our close relationship with the Medical School is key to meeting this challenge.”

Professor Keith Lloyd added: “This course will attract passionate and skilled graduates and should be viewed as an important vehicle to attract talent into the NHS in Wales.”

Closing date for applications is June 19. Competition is anticipated to be high for this innovative course with only 15 places available for 2016/17. All applications should be made directly to