Have you ever wondered how medicine is so readily available in primary care and nursing home settings, although a doctor may not be on hand? The provision of medicine when needed is vital to adequately treating symptoms, reducing the risk of infection, and improving quality of life in patients at all stages of the life cycle. Although many of the overarching medical decisions may be made by a doctor or consultant, nurses often interact the most with patients in residential care and in care centres. Only relatively recently have nurses been given more powers to control and prescribe medications as necessary to patients under their care. In fact, in 2001, the government gifted more powers to other healthcare professionals, with nurse prescribers becoming a formalised, recognised role in 2003.
But what do nurse prescribers do, and how are they different to staff nurses? In these circumstances, nurse prescribers are known as ‘adjunct’ prescribers, often renewing prescriptions which have already been cleared by a doctor on repeat prescriptions, but also can act as autonomous independent prescribers as well. Nursing independent prescribers fall under the bracket of autonomous, independent prescribers – particularly as they are permitted to prescribe any medication for any condition, including control drugs and narcotics which are useful for palliative care. Supplementary nurse prescribers have a bit less autonomy, only being able to reissue medicine which has already been cleared by more senior health professionals.
It is these roles which are vital to ensuring an efficient and ‘well-oiled’ care provision system, which improves patient care, increases the choice available to patients, reduces barriers to medication and improves team functionality. For example, a patient may be in pain during the end stages of their life and require supplementary pain relief in addition to what is already given. Trying to reach a doctor in evenings or weekends to approve a prescription and then dispense the item at a pharmacy is time consuming. However, if the district nurse (who is an independent prescriber) is available when they check the patient later, adjunct medication can be easily prescribed in accordance with their clinical management plan. It is in these areas where quality of life must be persevered as much as possible – yet independent prescribers are even useful in situations like post-operative pain management.
So how do you become an independent prescriber? Here are the initial requirements available to all standard nursing graduates;
Overall, this role is vital to retaining a high provision of specialist healthcare in the United Kingdom and worldwide. Moreover, independent nurse prescribers play an important role in providing relief to duty doctors and other specialists who are often inundated with other hands on roles. This nurse prescriber position is well beyond the realms of just palliative care, and can provide relief to all manners of healthcare services by reducing the need for GP or specialist guidance. For those who want more autonomy in their practice, becoming a prescriber can be an important way to support vulnerable patients and retain a well-functioning care team.