Huge increase in number of drugs prescribed by nurses

The number of independent nurse prescribers has increased by 56 per cent in the past 18 months, according to the latest figures from the NMC

There were 13,772 independent nurse prescribers on the register in August.

Data from the NHS Business Services Authority for May this year shows that the number of nurse prescriptions for some antidepressants have tripled, compared with May last year when the full formulary opened to nurse prescribers.

Scrips signed by nurses for some antibiotics have more than doubled during the same period.

The increase prompted some doctors to express 'serious concerns' about the 'explosion of nurse prescribing' in the medical press last month. However, Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: 'The majority of nurses who prescribe have at least 10 years' nursing experience before starting their prescribing training and must have either degree- or masters-level education.'

Jenny Aston, chair of the RCN's Nurse Practitioner Association, welcomed news that the number of nurse scrips had increased. 'Now we can prescribe, we are prescribing. Before nurses carried the prescription to the doctors' room and said "please sign". There is no doubt that, where nurses can prescribe, their skills are being fully utilised.'

She said that the only area of possible risk was if nurses were signing repeat prescriptions for a drug without carrying out a proper assessment or outside their area of expertise.

However, Molly Courtenay, RCN joint prescribing adviser, said: 'I have no doubt, based on research, that nurses are prescribing within their area of competence and are very clear that they will not prescribe outside it.'

An editorial in the BMJ last month called for prescribing to be taught as part of advanced nursing practice courses, rather than as a stand-alone module, to stave off doctors' criticism regarding the standard of training of nurse prescribers.

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