We’ve almost all been there at one time or another. Your child has an earache or our parent in a long-term care facility has a bladder infection.
Patients with these conditions can wait hours for treatment, sometimes at an already-busy hospital emergency department.
Could authorizing nurses to prescribe drugs for non-complex conditions make the Ontario health-care system more efficient and effective? The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) thinks so, and the Ontario government agrees.
This month, Metroland Media was the only Toronto media outlet to report the Ontario government is preparing to amend the Nursing Act to authorize registered nurses to prescribe certain drugs for non-complex conditions and to communicate a diagnosis. If approved, the changes would also authorize nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances.
"Increased access to health care, improved outcomes and a better patient experience — all are direct results on investments we've made and hard work done by nurses and others," Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said in a statement to Metroland Media Toronto.
RNAO has been lobbying for years to expand the practice scope of Ontario's 96,000 registered nurses.
Registered nurses bring a wealth of knowledge gained from years of experience in front-line patient care, and for many, from ongoing continuing education. A 2012 RNAO report concluded the medical knowledge of registered nurses (who have a four-year degree), and nurse practitioners (who have a degree plus postgraduate education) has not been fully utilized.
As RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun said,"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."
In Britain, nurses have been prescribing medication for 15 years, Grinspun noted. Alberta and Manitoba is moving toward developing a prescribing role for registered nurses.
It makes sense for Ontario to do the same.
Registered nurses on social media asked if increased responsibility and liability will be accompanied by a pay raise. Some nurse practitioners argue, since they already prescribe, why not focus on their scope of practice first?
Prescribing medication is a serious responsibility. The Ontario government's move to amending the legislation must be met with the education required to protect patient and nurses alike.
Allowing nurses to use their wealth of knowledge could be just the prescription needed to benefit patients and the Ontario health-care system.