Nurses ready to fill prescription void
EXCLUSIVE by Steve Lewis and Sue Dunlevy
April 29, 2009 12:00am, Daily Telegraph.
NURSES will be able to prescribe cheap medicines to patients under plans to boost their role in frontline health services.
The bold reform will expand health services in the bush, nursing homes and other areas struggling to cope with a shortage of 1300 GPs.
But it will place the Federal Government on a collision course with the powerful Australian Medical Association, which has campaigned to retain a monopoly on prescribing subsidised medicines.
Under the shake-up, the Government will allow experienced nurses - known as "nurse practitioners" - to prescribe medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, saving their patients hundreds of dollars on prescription drugs.
It will allow nursing practitioners to treat nursing home patients with minor ailments, prescribing vaccinations and antibiotics for tonsillitis, urinary tract infections - and even contraceptives.
The Budget measure will be promoted as making health services more affordable, particularly in the bush. The cost of common antibiotics would fall from $17 to $5 for pensioners if nurse prescriptions were subsidised.
It comes as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and senior ministers yesterday signed off on the thrust of the May 12 Budget. With the recession slashing billions of dollars from revenues, the Budget will target wealthier families in order to fund a pension increase.
The reform had earlier received a tick from the Budget razor gang, even though it is expected to cost millions of dollars in additional health outlays.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon has championed a broader role for nurses, claiming they are "under-utilised and undervalued" in the health system.
There are around 350 nurse practitioners in Australia who have 10 years of nursing experience and a masters degree in nursing.
They have the legal right to write prescriptions for up to 200 medicines but their patients have to pay full price, which can cost hundreds of dollars because the PBS does not cover medicines they prescribe.
Nurse practitioners are qualified to treat a range of common ailments including simple broken bones that don't need surgery, burns, urinary infections, sore ears, kidney stones, rashes and tonsillitis.
Australian Nursing Federation president Ged Kearney said nurse practitioners had been pushing hard to get subsidies for prescriptions.
She said a breakthrough in this area would provide a major encouragement for experienced nurses to increase their qualifications.