Guide to practice or `load of rubbish'? The influence of care plans on nursing practice in five clinical areas in Northern Ireland¶ A nursing care plan is a written, structured plan of action for patient care. There is strong evidence that care plans are viewed negatively by nurses and poorly implemented, with little evidence to suggest that they have any positive effect on quality of care or patient outcomes. The project reported in this paper aimed to investigate how nursing care plans were being used in five clinical areas, and to assess their influence on nursing practice. An exploratory, predominantly qualitative research design was selected utilizing participant observation, focus groups and diaries. In four of the five clinical areas, the `activities of daily living' section of care plans had no apparent positive influence on nursing practice which was driven by other factors and sources of information. Care plans in the remaining ward were clinically led and locally owned, and in this setting they operated as an important guide to practice. It is concluded that a reinvention of the nursing care plan is needed without the constraint of a nursing model as its necessary foundation. New and imaginative plans of action for patient care should be encouraged, developed at ward level and tailored to the demands of the clinical area. These should contain a minimum of documentation and integrate with nursing practice.