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HEE acts to turn GP workforce crisis into a drama


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Thursday, 20 September 2018

HEE acts to turn GP workforce crisis into a drama

Health Education England has teamed up with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and several leading theatrical agencies in a bid to end the GP workforce crisis.

Actors trained to look and behave like doctors are to fill the growing gap in the GP workforce, which is estimated at more than 5000 in England alone.

The scheme would see complex cases treated by a qualified GP and other patients seen by an acting GP or thespian physician associate (TPA).

The Department of Health and Social Care dismissed the concerns of GP professional bodies that using untrained, unqualified individuals would compromise patient safety.

A spokesperson said: “Actors are highly trained and can quite easily adapt to the role of a GP. They’ll soon learn to perfect a careworn demeanour, a shabby appearance and an air of resignation. They may even be better than GPs in some areas, such as showing emotion, looking interested and delivering bad news dramatically.”

In trials patients were unable to tell the difference between actors and real GPs. “If you hang a stethoscope round someone’s neck, most people will assume that they’re a doctor,” said the spokesperson.

Actors can be trained for GP equivalent roles in a fraction of the time it would take to train conventional GPs. They are also cheaper to employ.

HEE argues that with minimal training actors could be deployed to do much of the non-clinical work currently done by overstretched GPs. As part of NHS England’s “time for typing” initiative, practices are encouraged to delegate day-to-day bureaucracy to less highly qualified staff, leaving GPs free to concentrate on only the most important forms. 

TPAs are expected to play many of the parts currently played by family doctors, including:

  • Older GP partner – they will be trained to say “this would never have happened in my day” and “don’t ask me because I’m retiring next year”
  • Younger partner – will get the practice team on WhatsApp and announce plans to shake things up at every practice meeting
  • Salaried GP – will drive the nicest car in the practice and be encouraged to say “I didn’t train for seven years to do paperwork” and “I have to leave at 4pm to pick up the kids”
  • Locum – will come to work in jeans and keep gym bag in the car. Skis five times a year. Generally over-confident except when it comes to medical stuff.

In a statement Health Education England said: “It’s easy to overstate the importance of the clinical dimension of general practice. Taking that out of the equation opens up a whole new range of recruitment possibilities. We have already been moving in this direction with the creation of physician associates and other GP-like roles. This is just the logical next step.”

The actors' union Equity will be the new regulator for the profession and will investigate complaints of unconvincing performance and gross overacting.

HEE has made a recruitment video set in a fictional practice starring Sir Ian McKellen as elderly partner Dr Potter, Helena Bonham-Carter as salaried GP Dr Sally Waitrose and Shane Richie as loveable locum Dr Bunce.

Acting editor: NHS Networks


Alan Lauder
Alan Lauder says:
Sep 21, 2018 11:33 AM

In the latest development, in an initiative sponsored by 'Death by Babylon', actors are replaced by CGI characters and the fun factor is enhanced by virtually spinning a 'Wheel of diagnosis'.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 21, 2018 12:07 PM

Alan - love the wheel of diagnosis. We should clarify that the condition to which you refer describes a mysterious fatal disease afflicting travellers to Iraq and is unrelated to companies of a similar name

Bob  Smith
Bob Smith says:
Sep 21, 2018 02:58 PM

Re today's vote:Post Mid Staffs why are we still seeing chronic failings of care? As a patient representative over many years I repeatedly asked them not to say "Lessons Learned" until such time as they could demonstrate that they had indeed been learned.