Nurse prescribers are much better than doctors at following prescribing guidelines, say senior NHS managers.
This implies increasing their numbers could save the health service millions of pounds.
GPs were heavily criticised last week for their failure to follow NHS prescription guidelines that say they should favour generic options over more expensive brand names.
‘What we do know is that nurses generally keep to guidelines much better than doctors,’ NHS chief executive David Nicholson said in a reply to questions from MPs on script expenditure.
The evidence forms part of a report by the Commons public accounts committee into primary care prescription spending, which doubled between 1996 and 2006, reaching £8.2bn.
The inquiry, the committee’s second on the issue, was instigated after the National Audit Office estimated £200m was being overspent annually.
The NAO also said one in five GPs admitted to being more influenced by marketing from drug companies than NHS advice when choosing drugs.
Rowena Smith, Community and District Nursing Association chairperson, said: ‘Nurses are very good at sticking to the rules because they know what they can and cannot do in the course of their employment.
‘There is more scrutiny of what nurses do than of GPs, as they are independent businessmen.’
According to the committee’s report, nurse prescribing has had a negligible impact on NHS finances and accounts for only 2% of the total amount of prescribing in the community.
Matt Griffiths, RCN prescribing and medicines adviser, said: ‘It is reassuring that we only make up 2%,’ he said. ‘This shows we have been rolling out nurse prescribing safely and slowly and that nurses are following the training they have been given.’
But Dr Jim Kennedy, prescribing spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘A record of blindly following an impersonal protocol or “cookbook” does not constitute good prescribing.’