Older people residents in care homes that only offer residential care rely on primary healthcare services for medical and nursing needs. Research has investigated the demands that care homes staff and residents make on general practice, but not the involvement of other members of the primary healthcare team. This paper describes two consecutive studies completed in 2001 and 2003 that involved focus groups and survey methods of enquiry conducted in two settings: an England shire and inner London. The research questions that both studies had in common were (1) What is the contribution of district nursing and other primary care services to care homes that do not have on-site nursing provision? (2) What strategies promote participation and collaboration between residents, care home staff and NHS primary care nursing staff? and (3) What are the current obstacles and aids to effective partnership working and learning? A total of 74 community-based nurses and care home managers and staff took part in 10 focus groups, while 124 care home managers (73% of the171 surveyed) and 113 district nurse team leaders (80% of the 142 surveyed) participated in the surveys. Findings from both studies demonstrated that nurses were the most frequent NHS professional visiting care homes. Although care home managers and district nurses believed that they had a good working relationship, they had differing expectations of what the nursing contribution should be and how personal and nursing care were defined. This influenced the range of services that older people had access to and the amount of training and support care home staff received from district nurses and the extent to which they were able to develop collaborative and reciprocal patterns of working. Findings indicate that there is a need for community-based nursing services to adopt a more strategic approach that ensures older people in care homes can access the services they are entitled to and receive equivalent health care to older people who live in their own homes.