§ Mr. Bailey
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the potential role of physicians' assistants in the UK. 
§ Mr. Hutton
The Department has commissioned an independent evaluation of the role of physician assistant. The evaluation began February 2003 and will run until 2005.
In the meantime, the national health service is developing roles similar to that of the physician assistant. These are being termed practitioner-level roles, and are designed to provide early assessment, diagnosis, and initiation of treatment, and so help improve the quality and timeliness of the care patients receive.
The Department is evaluating the success of these roles through a series of national trials in surgery, emergency care and anaesthetics. It is planned to include primary care in the trials, early in 2004. The trials will assess the benefits of the new ways of working for both patients and staff. The assessment will include measures of improved access to care, and of the reduction in the number of health care professionals a person has to see before treatment.