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Public welcome prescribing nurses

There has been a gradual rise in the number of nurse practitioners and midwives in Australia prescribing drugs due to growing recognition of the need to expand this authority to a broader range of professionals.

There are 765 nurse practitioners across the country with the right to prescribe, as well as 777 registered nurses authorised to supply scheduled medicines, according to figures from the latest Research Roundup report.

Nurse practitioners in paediatric/neonatal care, emergency care, primary care/general practice and sexual health/women's health are prescribing drugs on a more regular basis.

The report revealed this is not only improving patients access to medicine but that it is "generally acceptable to patients".

The author of the report is Melissa Raven, a research fellow at Flinders University Primary Health Care Research and Information Service.

Raven believes this increase in nurses prescribing can be attributed to a number of factors, including a combination of advocacy by nurse practitioners, midwives, nursing organisations and other health professionals who recognise the benefits, and recognition by governments that there is a need to expand prescribing more broadly to a range of health professionals.

While there was a rise in the number of nurse practitioners, and therefore a rise in prescribing, as of September 2012 there was only one midwife in Australia endorsed to prescribe.

In the same month, however, there were 121 midwives who, upon completion of a Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia-endorsed course, would qualify for endorsement as eligible midwives.

Jen Byrne, a lecturer at Flinders' school of nursing and midwifery, said the delay in the number of midwives endorsed to prescribe is due to the fact that a course to prepare them was not available.

To meet this challenge, Flinders in August commenced the first Graduate Certificate in Midwifery that covers prescribing and ordering investigations.

"Most midwives that are undertaking this course (around 100) are undertaking the course part-time so will not complete until mid-2013," Byrne said. "Once the midwives have successfully completed this Graduate Certificate they will be eligible to apply to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia for endorsement to prescribe."

She said midwives prescribing and ordering tests will "save delays in treatment, facilitate timely care for women and their babies in both routine and emergency practice contexts and provide support for our medical colleagues".

Sarah Stewart, professional development officer at the Australian College of Midwives, said there was no hesitation from midwives to prescribe, however, "midwives' ability to prescribe was regulated by APHRA and, at the moment, it is only midwives with Medicare eligibility who have the legal right to prescribe medication that is available on the PBS and/or endorsed by the NMBA".

She believes that a focus on training will help increase the number of midwives eligible to prescribe, and moving to ensure consistent legislation at a national level.

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