Healthcare: At a Glance - Nurse and pharmacist prescribing

What's on the cards?

A massive increase in the potential audience for pharma company PROs when it comes to prescription drugs. Under plans in a consultation paper published this week by Health Secretary John Reid, nurses and pharmacists would be able to prescribe without consulting a doctor.

Can't they already?

Up to a point, but this would increase the list of drugs for those with specialist training. Nurses could prescribe for a wide range of long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma, while pharmacists would be able to provide medication for illnesses such as tonsillitis and acute pain relief.

Is this set in stone?

No. An 'anything goes' approach to prescriptions by nurses and pharmacists is the most radical of the options up for discussion by the Department of Health and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Is everybody happy about this?

It's widely seen as a sensible move for these groups to take more responsibility for prescribing. But the Royal College of GPs has warned that they might be susceptible to pharma companies' marketing strategies.

Surely not. Is this controversial, then?

You could say that. Last weekend The Sunday Times reported that NHS nurses had been wooed by pharma firms at posh hotels. Apparently nurses dined at one eaterie offering 'pan-fried woodpigeon breast with orange and shaved beetroot'.

So would drugs firms be better off providing nurses with wine and nibbles?

The classiness of the food on offer doesn't have any bearing on what pharma companies can do. But the ABPI's code of practice states that entertainment and hospitality should be 'secondary' to such meetings, which must be 'for a significant educational purpose'. The ABPI is, of course, currently reviewing its code for the first time in 13 years in the light of ongoing prescription rule changes.

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