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Keywords:

  • community care;
  • nurse practitioner;
  • district nursing;
  • health visiting;
  • school nursing

This paper examines the future of community nursing, within the wider framework of a rapidly changing National Health Service. The research was commissioned by the Community Performance Review Network, as part of a series of comparative studies between community healthcare NHS trusts. Three questionnaires were sent to 24 trusts, covering three of the community nursing services: district nursing, health visiting and school nursing. Of the 24 trusts involved in the network, 22 responded to some or all of the questionnaires. A wide range of management structures and working practices were found between trusts, but several common themes and issues of concern emerged. For district nurses, these included the shift from secondary to primary care and the changing demands of the client population served, with increasing numbers of elderly and chronically disabled patients. This led to anxiety over the communication between different providers of care, such as community, acute and social services, and the skills mix and training requirements for nurses. Health visitors and school nurses were concerned about being marginalized in the move towards integrated primary health care teams. As the emphasis changes from treating illness to health promotion, concern was expressed about how performance could be measured on the less quantifiable outcomes of preventative care, and hence how jobs could be justified to purchasers of health care. A central theme was the potential role of the nurse practitioner in provision of primary care, and this formed a focus for other anxieties concerning both the current situation and future of community nursing services.