PATIENTS in our community must be made aware that their consultation may not be with a GP.

General Practice is changing and now a large number of clinicians, who are not medically-qualified, are seeing patients in GP practices throughout Worcestershire.

Such staff include physicians associates, clinical pharmacists, advanced nurse practitioners, paramedics, social prescribers, physiotherapists and health and wellbeing coaches.

These staff are funded through a central UK government budget called the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) which for 2024/25 equates to approximately £1.44 billion overall.

Each Primary Care Network (PCN), including the Worcestershire PCNs, are allocated an ARRS sum for the year.

This is based on the PCN’s weighted population share of the total ARRS funding.

PCNs are able to claim up to this maximum sum each year.

However, ARRS funding cannot be used to pay for GPs. With GP funding for the new financial year rising by 2.2 per cent, which is significantly lower than inflation, many GP practices are financially struggling to recruit and pay salaried and locum GPs.

Accordingly, thousands of locum GPs are unemployed in the UK and some salaried GPs have been made redundant and replaced with ARRS professionals in parts of the country.

Leading on from this almost 60 GP practices closed in the UK last year, including one in Worcester.

Therefore, due in part to cost constraints but not exclusively, many GP surgeries are now reliant upon ARRS staff funded through external budgets.

This does confer significant advantages to our community as ARRS staff bring a new range of skills and expertise to primary care which can be used to support patients with a diversity of care needs.

For example, they have contributed to the expansion of bespoke multidisciplinary teams (MDTs), including frailty teams, mental health and wellbeing and long-term conditions.

However, patients should understand that ARRS professional are not substitutes for GPs.

A GP is able to integrate expert knowledge on anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, immunology, pharmacology, microbiology, psychology, genetics and molecular biology alongside many years of clinical training in a range of hospital specialties, including internal medicine, general surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry and emergency medicine, to diagnose and treat patients in the community where over 90 per cent of healthcare takes place.

It takes over 10 years to qualify as a GP and countless undergraduate and postgraduate exams thorough comprehensive assessments and extensive continuous training and professional development requirements to re-validate under intense regulation hence patients can be assured that GPs are well placed to offer a considered expert opinion on your health overall.

We are all a team in the NHS and work together but it’s important patients know how that team functions to support their individual and family’s healthcare needs.

Patients have a right to know who they are consulting with and what their job title is.

If you feel that your healthcare needs are complex then you should request an appointment with a GP.

If unsure then you can ask the reception team and care navigator who is most appropriate to deal with your healthcare problem.

However, I would urge all patients to clarify the name and job title of the healthcare professional they are booked to see and if they want to specifically see a GP then they should request so.

Our columnist Dr Jason Seewoodhary is a former Worcester GP.