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UK Nurses, Pharmacists to Prescribe for Chronic Diseases

Nurses and pharmacists will take over much of the management and prescribing for chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes under new Government plans. "Supplementary prescribing" is intended to ease the burden on GPs and provide a faster and more convenient service for patients.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "Our proposals will enable pharmacists and nurses, working in partnership with doctors, to help more patients and treat more conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis." In particular, the plans aim to unlock the potential of pharmacists, with 20,000 pharmacists in the community and in hospitals well placed to deliver rapid treatment. A clinical management plan will be drawn up for each patient, specifying the extent to which nurses and pharmacists can contribute to their care. Doctors will have discretion over what medicines can be prescribed within this plan.

Sarah Mullally, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said nurses are already established as experts in managing chronic conditions, but cannot provide total care because they lack prescribing powers. She said: "Supplementary prescribing will change this and ensure that where, for example, it is a specialist nurse who carries out regular reviews of a patient's condition, the nurse can also prescribe medicines for that condition for the patient."

The proposals, which will now go to public consultation, build on an earlier scheme to extend nurse prescribing. These include treatments for minor injuries such as burns, minor ailments such as hayfever or ear infections, and other treatments that promote healthier lifestyle, such as providing vitamins to pregnant women, as well as providing palliative care. The first wave of nurses who will prescribe in there areas are now finishing their training, with approximately 10,000 nurses expected to have completed training by 2004.

The Department of Health believes nurse prescribing will significantly reduce GP and hospital doctor workload, with approximately 30% of GP consultations currently taken up with treating minor ailments and injuries. However, the initiative has coincided with a new survey showing most nurses are deeply concerned about the state of the profession. The Nursing Times survey shows that 75% of nurses do not believe the NHS is "in safe hands" under Labour, with an even larger majority indicating more nursing staff and better pay were needed to improve their working lives.

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