At a glance: PROs to benefit from prescribers expansion

Who is being given more prescribing power? Qualified nurse prescribers and pharmacist independent prescribers will be able to prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition – apart from controlled drugs – from spring 2006 (see What the Papers Say, p13).

What does this mean for PR people?
Nurses and pharmacists will be able to handle a wider variety of prescription-only medicines (POM) than ever. Justin Wilkes, chair of the CIPR's Health & Medical Group, says: 'It opens up a whole new audience in PR terms, with nurses and pharmacists becoming a primary rather than a secondary target for many POM campaigns.'

With a knock-on effect on PR budgets?
Nurses and pharmacists, sometimes a secondary target audience behind GPs, will be moving yet further into the mainstream. Although we may not see massive change for a couple of years, as new people are trained, it will be up to agencies to persuade pharma clients that there are now three professional audiences who require serious comms attention.

What's the background to this?
Greater prescribing by medical professionals who are not GPs has been a feature of recent Department of Health practice. But this extension means that nurses running diabetes or coronary heart disease clinics, for instance, will be able to prescribe independently for their patients. Effectively, this latest government move will be seen as removing the distinction between doctors and, in particular, nurses, allowing patients  quicker access to medicines.

So everyone wins...
Hmm. That's not quite the way the British Medical Association sees it. The doctors' body is worried about safety, saying that training for new prescribers will not be equivalent to that of its members.

Show me the numbers
Around 450 pharmacists and 5,700 nurses have qualified to become  supplementary prescribers but there is a need to convince the
public – and sceptical GPs – that patients' wellbeing will not be compromised. Bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of  Great Britain will be running campaigns emphasising their members' level
of professional competence and expert knowledge.

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