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Easing the burden of pain relief

The Government is today launching two consultations that aim to make it easier for patients to get the medicines they need by allowing:

  • The prescribing of controlled drugs, including for pain relief, by nurse independent prescribers and pharmacist independent prescribers.
  • The supply and/or administration of morphine and diamorphine under Patient Group Directions (PGDs) by nurses and pharmacists for the immediate necessary treatment of sick or injured persons.

A 12-week Home Office consultation will look at whether the Misuse of Drugs Regulations should be updated to enable the prescribing of controlled drugs such as morphine for pain relief, by specially trained nurses and pharmacists.

The Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will simultaneously launch a consultation on proposals for changes to the legislation governing the supply and/or administration of pain relief through morphine and diamorphine by nurses and pharmacists working under PGDs.

Allowing nurse and pharmacist independent prescribers' to prescribe controlled drugs will increase access to medicines for patients, improving care in areas such as palliative care, substance misuse, postoperative care and pain relief.

Commenting on the launch, Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "These proposals will make it easier for patients to get the medicines they need without compromising safety. Enabling nurse and pharmacist prescribers to prescribe those controlled drugs they are competent to use, completes the changes we made last year and allows these highly trained professionals to use their full range of skills to help their patients.

Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the RCN, said: "The RCN has been calling for these changes which will improve the care and service for patients, so this is a welcome move. It shows that the Department of Health has listened to the views of the RCN and its members on this issue.

"Nurses are highly trained and skilled. Last year 12,000 prescriptions for controlled drugs were written by nurses. Allowing appropriately trained and qualified prescribing nurses to prescribe more controlled drugs within their competency and speciality, and allowing nurses to supply and administer more controlled drugs under patient group direction will ensure that nurses can take a more active role in ensuring that patients' symptoms are well managed. This is good news for nurses and good news for patients."

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will consider the responses to both consultations, before making recommendations to Home Office Ministers. The Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) will also consider the responses to the consultation on PGDs before making recommendations to Department of Health Ministers. Any changes arising from the ACMD and CHM's recommendations would be introduced by Statutory Instrument, no earlier than late summer 2007.

The consultation on prescribing of controlled drugs is available on the Home Office website at