Articles, Dentistry

Associate doctors

A news story concerning our sister profession, the doctors, caught my eye at the end of last week.

When we visit our GP (general practitioner) surgery or go to A&E in the future, we could well be seen by a 'physician associate', an import from the USA, which boasts 80,000 of them.

They will carry out many of the same roles as junior doctors, including examining patients, ordering and interpreting tests, admitting and discharging to hospital and deciding on treatment, but will not be able to prescribe.

They'll be drawn from the ranks of science and nursing graduates and have two years postgraduate training.

Unlike doctors, they will not have to be registered with the General Medical Council or any other regulator.

But the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: 'The NHS is treating record numbers of people.

'That’s why we are growing the workforce further with a new class of medic, so busy doctors have more time to care for patients.'

I guess that the real reason is that they are cheaper to train than doctors and cost less to employ, on a salary of £30,000 to £40,000.

As this concerns doctors, why am I raising it on the Dentistry website?

Put simply because what happens to them can so easily happen to us.

The evaluation of the current pilots shows that the vast majority of dentistry carried out in the NHS is not advanced crown and bridgework, nor oral surgery, nor endodontics.

It is simple restorative work, well within the scope of practice for hygienists, therapists and clinical dental technicians, and prevention that can be carried out by extended duty dental nurses.

The missing link is the oral health assessment and drawing up of a treatment plan, which in the NHS needs to be carried out by a dentist who is on the Performers List.

How long will it be before someone cottons on to the idea that, if GPs can have their work done by an ‘associate physician’ at half their pay, why can’t GDPs (general dental practitioners) have their work done by an ‘associate dentist’?

Or maybe we have reached this stage already, with associates paid around half of what a contract holder is paid.

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