• nursing;
  • health visiting;
  • nurse practitioner;
  • extended role;
  • acute childhood illness;
  • primary health care

The diagnosis and management of acute childhood illness: is there a role for health visitors?

Much of the published literature on nurse practitioners relates to nurses with backgrounds, training and nursing experience other than health visiting. Health visitors however may be ideally placed to develop their role in the identification and management of acute childhood illness, and such a development may benefit patients, the health service and health visitors themselves. This study examines the current practice and attitudes of heath visitors in identifying and managing acute childhood illness using a postal questionnaire survey in one community National Health Service (NHS) Trust. The majority of responding health visitors reported that they were already identifying and advising on a range of acute childhood illnesses. Their confidence in undertaking these activities varied by condition. They were less confident in identifying and advising on conditions requiring the use of diagnostic equipment, viral illnesses which are becoming increasingly rare, and those with potentially serious outcomes. More knowledge and more training were seen as methods for increasing confidence. Most health visitors could see advantages in taking on this role; almost two thirds felt it would become part of the role of the health visitor in the future and a high level of interest was expressed in developing such a role.