The nurse's role in managing medicines in palliative care

What it is

In general, medicines will be prescribed by medical professionals. 

Nurse Practitioners with Nursing and Midwifery board of Australia endorsement can also prescribe medicines. They have access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation note that all nurses and midwives have a responsibility to:

  • assist people to make informed decisions about medicines by providing evidence-based information, education and discussion;
  • be aware of the risks and benefits of medicines, the possibility of not using medicines and the importance of a health lifestyle;
  • use evidence-based information, resources, and services to make decisions and take actions that enable medicines, when required, to be chosen and used wisely;
  • maintain contemporaneous knowledge and skill to utilise medicines appropriately and to their optimal effect; and
  • use their knowledge and, if required, question the appropriateness of medicine prescribed.

Why it matters

The management of medicines in palliative care is a problem. It is estimated that more than half of people with a chronic condition fail to take their medicines as prescribed. This has flow on effects of increased risk of adverse drug reactions, exacerbations of underlying conditions and costs.

Nurses are available to patients in a number of means providing an opportunity to identify and discuss symptom and medication management problems. This may be in relation to non-pharmacological approaches as well as administering medication as prescribed, supporting others in this role, or in providing feedback to the prescriber. Patients and families will also require advice and support including information on the medications that they are taking and nurses will often fulfil this role.

Understanding the use of medicines in the palliative care context is important. Here we explore this in more detail. 

Last updated 20 August 2021