The government has quietly issued a circular on 'patient group directions' following 'an error' in the NHS plan about nurse prescribing.

The circular outlines what trusts should do to implement patient group directions, under which doctors can authorise nurses to supply and administer medication in defined circumstances.

But Royal College of Nursing policy adviser Frances Pickersgill was only 'half-pleased' at the news.

'The national plan implies that nurses would prescribe by patient group directions, ' she said. 'We've lobbied for full prescribing powers for nurses.'

The plan says: 'The introduction of patient group directions, which enable nurses and other professionals to supply medicines to patients according to protocols authorised by a doctor and a pharmacist, will mean that by 2004 a majority of nurses should be able to prescribe.'

At a recent nurses' summer school, Department of Health nursing officer Jenny Kay said the wording was 'a proof-reading error'. In fact, the claim relates to the number of nurses expected to be able to follow patient group protocols, Ms Kay said.

Unison head of nursing Karen Jennings welcomed the circular, which meant 'nurses will be able to supply and administer medicines without fearing any legal consequences'.

Patient Group Directions (England only) .

www.doh.gov.uk/coinh.htm