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Changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) that allows nurse practitioners (NPs) to prescribe Section 100 medication for HIV and Hepatitis B and C have been welcomed by Australia’s peak sexual health organisations.

The Australasian Sexual Health and HIV Nurses Association (ASHHNA) and Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) said they were elated when the changes to the PBS went through, after spending more than half a decade working on a policy development and advocacy to make it happen.

Shannon Woodward, President of ASHHNA, said the changes would allow appropriately trained nurse practitioners to utilise the full breadth of skills and expertise at their disposal.

“After years of work and advocacy for this to happen… it’s great to acknowledge the role of nurse practitioners in the care of people with Hepatitis B and C, and HIV,” Ms Woodward said.

“Whether it’s in the community or in a hospital setting, or a primary healthcare setting, lots of patients are already really well-engaged with nurse practitioners… this will enable NPs to provide holistic care in this specialty area.”

Clinical Nurse Lead at ASHM Melinda Hassall, said they had begun the process of developing a policy around this from 2013, stressing that a number of organisations had collaborated and contributed to it.

She added that there were broader benefits for the community as a result of the new authorisations.

“Nurse practitioners are often located where access to publicly funded healthcare is really challenging… and also where there might be concerns about privacy and confidentiality in accessing services,” she said, pointing to sexual health centres in regional areas such as Mount Isa as sites where there will be an obvious benefit.

“I think it’s really important for us all to be able to have a choice of where we seek our healthcare.”

ASHM is funded by the states and territories to provide Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that will allow nurse practitioners to prescribe the medication, a process that Ms Hassall admits is somewhat complicated by the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

However, while CPD will play a major part in increasing the range of accessible prescribers available for patients, Ms Hassall and Ms Woodward both said Australian nurse practitioners still needed to be enabled to prescribe medications under the TGA Personal Importation Scheme.

Ms Woodward said ASHHNA was working in conjunction with ASHM and a number of other advocacy groups to address this, with both Ms Woodward and Ms Hassall both stating that under the current legislation only medical practitioners could prescribe PrEP under the Personal Importation Scheme.

“Again, I think it really comes down to people being able to seek services from their provider of choice when their provider of choice for PrEP isn’t a [defined] practitioner,” Ms Hassall explained, adding that the current wording forces those seeing a nurse practitioner to see another professional (ie. doctor) for their scripts.

The change to the s100 prescription laws came into effect on 1 April, with two pathways available for nurse practitioners through ASHM.

Nurse practitioners can find out more about taking part in the training at the HIV or Hepatitis B s 100 community prescribers  program site, or alternately about applying for recognition of prior experience, through the ASHM website.