If Belleville gets the green light for its proposed nurse practitioner clinic, then 5,000 people in the eastern Ontario city will soon have regular access to primary health care.

Elizabeth Edwards, a registered nurse and president of the Quinte chapter of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, has worked on the Belleville proposal. She hopes for the go-ahead before the end of the month, which is when the Ontario government is expected to issue RFPs for more nurse practitioner clinics.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced he wants 25 such clinics up and running before the end of his mandate in 2011. The first clinic opened in Sudbury in 2007 and has a caseload of 2,000 patients. In February, funding for three more clinics, in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Belle River (near Windsor), was announced.

“We are certain we will be in that lineup in May,” says Edwards, a nursing professor at Belleville’s Loyalist College. She recalls surprising McGuinty in conversation earlier this year when she told him the Belleville clinic could accept patients a week after funding came through.

Nurse practitioner clinics are led by specially trained RNs working in collaboration with other health-care providers, including physicians. Nurse practitioners must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, at least two years of nursing experience and a one-year full-time NP certificate from any of the nine Ontario universities that offer it, including Lakehead, Queen’s, York and Windsor.

Tammy Armstrong, a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner who also teaches at Loyalist, says NPs deliver a first-level assessment of patients. For the Belleville clinic, Armstrong says the proposal includes a rapid access plan for the sick that will get them an appointment within 24 hours. OHIP covers the cost of the visit.

Doris Grinspun, executive director of the RNAO, says nurse practitioner clinics in Ontario are long overdue, and are highly cost effective.

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