Naturopaths in B.C. will now be able to prescribe drugs to their patients, making them the first alternative health-care providers in the country to do so.

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'Expanding the role of midwives, registered nurses and naturopathic physicians allows B.C.’s health system to offer more options for patients,' B.C. Minister of Health Services George Abbott said Thursday.

New regulations, announced by Health Services Minister George Abbott on Thursday, also significantly expand the role of other health professionals, including midwives and registered nurses.

"Expanding the role of midwives, registered nurses and naturopathic physicians allows B.C.’s health system to offer more options for patients," Abbott said in a news release.

"British Columbians made it clear during the Conversation on Health that they want increased choice and better access to health services, and today we are meeting our 2008 throne speech commitment to expand the scope of practice for these professions."

Dr. Christoph Kind, president of the B.C. Naturopathic Association, hailed the government move.

"Now we have the authority to be able to work with the pharmacy, with the pharmacists," he said. "It will also allow better co-management with other heath-care providers, including medical physicians, so I think all in all it's going to enhance the care that patients get in B.C."

Naturopaths would be required to complete a new certification course before being allowed to prescribe drugs including hormones, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, Kind said.

Naturopathic medicine, practised by more than 300 registered naturopaths in B.C., has been a regulated health profession in the province since 1936.

Midwives granted expanded powers

Under the new regulations, midwives will be authorized to deliver a broader range of services to new and expectant mothers, such as initiating induction and augmentation of labour; use of acupuncture for pain relief during labour; and assisting medical doctors with caesarean sections.

These specialized practices will be performed by midwives who have obtained additional education and certification, the government's release said.

"Enhancing the scope of practice for midwives recognizes the full range of training and expertise of this profession and supports our goal of ensuring safe and timely care for our clients," said Terry Lyn Evans, president of the College of Midwives of B.C.

"The new regulations are great news for the midwifery profession and for the new and expectant moms who choose to use the services of a midwife."

There are close to 140 midwives practising in British Columbia, and midwifery has been a regulated health profession in B.C. since 1998.

Registered nurses expand service

Registered nurses will now be authorized to independently provide a broader range of health services, including suturing, tuberculosis screening and managing labour in hospital when the primary care provider is absent, the ministry release said.

Registered nurses working triage will now also be able to immediately order diagnostic ultrasounds and X-rays. Additionally, registered nurses will be able to dispense or administer prescription medications in urgent situations, including for severe allergic reactions, drug overdoses, post-partum bleeding and communicable disease prevention and management.

"An enhanced scope of practice for registered nurses recognizes the key role that they play in B.C.’s health-care system," said Val Cartmel, president of the College of Registered Nurses of B.C.

"These changes will increase efficiency and choice for patients while registered nurses and nurse practitioners will continue to work closely with other health-care professions to provide safe, quality care to patients."

There are more than 34,500 registered nurses in the province, and they've been regulated since 1918.