The Ontario government will soon authorize registered nurses to prescribe certain medications independently and to communicate diagnoses, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Tuesday.
“By introducing proposed amendments to the Nursing Act this spring, we will authorize RNs to prescribe certain drugs for non-complex conditions and to communicate a diagnosis for the purpose of prescribing, making it easier and faster for Ontarians to get the high-quality health care they deserve,” Hoskins said in an exclusive statement to Metroland Media Toronto.
Hoskins said working with nurses is the latest among “significant improvements” the Liberals have made to Ontario’s health-care system since 2003.
“Increased access to health care, improved outcomes and a better patient experience — all are direct results of investments we’ve made and hard work done by nurses and others,” Hoskins said in the statement.
Last month, Hoskins told about 110 Ontario nurses and nursing students at the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario 17th annual Queen’s Park Day of his proposed legislative amendments.
If approved, those regulatory changes would include authorizing nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances.
Expanding the scope of practice for registered nurses and nurse practitioners has been a long-standing priority for the association, said Doris Grinspun, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario CEO.
“By taking this tremendous step, we’re making history,” Grinspun said. “We’re absolutely thrilled. It will enable nurses to provide a full contribution to the health and health care of all Ontarians.
“Now registered nurses and nurse practitioners can become a huge solution to health care access issues, not only for people, but for complications and system ineffectiveness,” Grinspun added. “A percentage of people if treated in primary care or long-term care in a timely fashion would not need to go to a hospital emergency department.”
The regulatory changes for Ontario nurses is a specific priority for Hoskins in the next two years, outlined in Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s mandate letter to him last September.
There are 96,000 registered nurses in Ontario.
Grinspun said if even 10 per cent of registered nurses take the voluntary course to prescribe medications, “that is almost 10,000 registered nurses who could provide a huge solution to primary care.”
She gave the example of how a registered nurse authorized to prescribe medications could treat a long-term care facility resident with a urinary tract infection.
“Now, we send that person to the (hospital) emergency department. How often do geriatricians come to the long-term care facility, do the test, and prescribe the antibiotic,” she said.
The Ontario Liberals began nursing reforms under former premier Dalton McGuinty.
“In the McGuinty era, nurse practitioners were authorized to admit patients from the emergency department to in-patient units, and treat and discharge patients,” Grinspun said.
“Today, several other jurisdictions allow nurse practitioners to do that. (Ontario) was the first.”
Under Wynne, there are now 75 funded nurse practitioner positions in long-term care facilities, she added.
In recent years, Ontario’s nurse practitioners have grown from 1,500 to 2,000 to well above 3,000, Grinspun said.