WORKFORCE: A group of five acute south west trusts have agreed to pay the course fees of physician associate trainees in return for two years’ service as part of a drive to ease workforce pressures.

The two-year training places will be funded by Weston Area Health Trust, Yeovil District Hospital, Plymouth Hospitals Trust, and South Devon Healthcare and Somerset foundation trusts in exchange for employment contracts.

Physician associates support clinicians in diagnosing and managing patients.

The trainees will join a new diploma course, set up by the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry which is working in partnership with the five providers.

A total of 20 places have been sponsored.

While the physician associate role has been in the NHS for a decade, they are not widely used.

Around 200 associates currently work in the health service.

The Patients’ Association has voiced concerns that hospital managers may rely on physician associates as they are cheaper to recruit.

Professor Alison Carr, director of postgraduate education at Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said: “Our decision to introduce a diploma in physician associate studies will help to address an existing and looming shortfall in care provision across the UK.

“We believe that this is the first time such a course has been supported by hospital trusts who are combining payment of fees with the promise of a work contract on graduation.”