Cooper, Richard J., Bissell, Paul, Ward, Paul, Murphy, Elizabeth, Anderson, Claire, Avery, Tony, James, Veronica, Lymn, Jo, Guillaume, Louise, Hutchinson, Allen and Ratcliffe, Julie (2012) Further challenges to medical dominance? The case of nurse and pharmacist supplementary prescribing. Health : An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 16 (2). pp. 115-133. ISSN 1363-4593

Doctors have traditionally been viewed as the dominant healthcare profession, with the authority to prescribe medicines, but recent non-medical prescribing initiatives have been viewed as possible challenges to such dominance. Using the example of the introduction of supplementary prescribing in the UK, this study sought to explore whether such initiatives represent a challenge to medical authority. Ten case study sites in England involving primary and secondary care and a range of clinical areas were used to undertake a total of 77 observations of supplementary prescribing consultations and interviews with 28 patients, 11 doctors and nurse and pharmacist prescribers at each site.

Supplementary prescribing was viewed positively by all participants but several doctors and patients appeared to lack awareness and understanding of supplementary prescribing. Continued medical authority was supported empirically in five areas: patients’ and supplementary prescribers’ perception of doctors as being hierarchically superior; doctors legitimation of nurses’ and pharmacists’ prescribing initially; doctors’ belief that they could control (particularly nurses’) access to prescribing training; supplementary prescribers’ frequent recourse to use doctors’ advice, coupled with doctors’ encouragement of such ‘knock on door’ prescribing advice policies; doctors’ denigration of most routine prescribing but claims that diagnosis was more skilled and key to medicine.

Supplementary prescribing appeared to be successfully accomplished in practice in a range of clinical settings and was acceptable to all involved but did not ultimately challenge medical dominance. However, more recent nurse and pharmacist independent prescribing (involving diagnosis) may represent a more significant threat.

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