Important development in regulatory reform for healthcare professionals

20th March 2024

The Anaesthesia Associates and Physician Associates Order 2024 (AAPAO) was made on 13 March 2024.

The AAPAO is significant for two reasons:

  • It brings anaesthesia associates and physician associates into statutory regulation, creating new protected titles and giving the General Medical Council (GMC) responsibility for regulating them alongside doctors.
  • It is the blueprint for reforms to the regulation of all other healthcare professionals, which will make significant changes to the statutory frameworks for standards, education, registration and fitness to practise. You can read our summary of some of the changes here.

The next step for the regulation of anaesthesia associates and physician associates is the publication of GMC’s draft rules for consultation. In an attempt to make healthcare professional regulation more agile and responsive, the AAPOA is intended to set out a high-level framework and give the GMC wide powers to set its own rules. The GMC is intending to start the consultation in March 2024. At the same time, they will also be seeking views on making changes to their fitness to practise decision making principles. They will then bring anaesthesia associates and physician associates into regulation by the end of 2024.

There was some opposition to the AAPAO during the legislative process, with critics arguing that the titles were confusing and did not significantly distinguish between doctors and associates. You can read the House of Lords debate here. The GMC has already published information about how measures intended to address the risk of confusion debated in the House of Lords, with different reference numbers and clear labelling in the online register.

Existing anaesthesia associates and physician associates will be able to continue to use their titles without being registered with the GMC until 13 December 2026. The GMC is encouraging people to register as soon as possible, and has published information about the routes to registration.

More widely, the Government is next intending to consult on amendments to the wider statutory frameworks of the GMC, Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). There is no published timetable for this process yet, but the GMC suggests it is not likely to be before 2025. With a general election before then, there will be a nervous wait to see if this long-sought and much-needed reform finally gets through the legislative process.

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