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In the winter of 1992, a postal survey was conducted on all practice nurses in Gateshead, England The aim of the research was to descnbe the work of practice nurses (nurses working with and employed by general practitioners), with particular reference to health promotion and communication, and to explore the practice nurses’ perceptions of their roles The research found little conformity about what practice nurses do, apart from practical tasks This confirms the essentially practical nature of their work, with poor role definition with regard to screening, health promotion and prevention Training was found to vary, indicating a need for improvement Women's health and surveillance of the health of elderly people were used to illustrate these issues A wide consensus was found about what tasks are appropriate to practice nurses, indicating either that the list of tasks used in the survey accurately describes their potential role or that they are prepared to perform most tasks Practice nurses perceive themselves as the specialists in health promotion although it was not possible to gain an understanding of whether they had a conception of the wider issues involved, which illustrated a limitation of survey methods The information obtained will be relevant in the debate about the future of practice nurses, as well as the future of primary health care services in general