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Diabetes care: practice nurse roles, attitudes and concerns


  • Tim Kenealy MBChB FRNZCGP,


  • Helen Kenealy BHB,

  • Barbara Docherty RGON ADN,

  • David Scott MBChB FRNZCGP,

  • Robert Scragg MBChB PhD FAFPHM,

  • David Simmons MD FRACP

Tim Kenealy, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


Background.  Practice nurses (PNs) are the largest group of nurses providing primary care for patients with diabetes in New Zealand, and changes in the health system are likely to have a substantial effect on their roles. To inform the development of a new primary health care nursing structure and evaluate the new role associated with this, it will be important to have data on current practice nurse roles.

Aims.  The aim of this paper is to report a study to compare the diabetes-related work roles, training and attitudes of practice nurses in New Zealand surveyed in 1990 and 1999, to consider whether barriers to practice nurse diabetes care changed through that decade, and whether ongoing barriers will be addressed by current changes in primary care.

Methods.  Questionnaires were mailed to all 146 PNs in South Auckland in 1990 and to all 180 in 1999, asking about personal and practice descriptions, practice organization, time spent with patients with diabetes, screening practices, components of care undertaken by practice nurses, difficulties and barriers to good practice, training in diabetes and need for further education. The 1999 questionnaire also asked about nurse prescribing and influence on patient quality of life.

Results.  More nurses surveyed in 1999 had postregistration diabetes training than those in 1990, although most of those surveyed in both years wanted further training. In 1999, nurses looked after more patients with diabetes, without spending more time on diabetes care than nurses in 1990. Nevertheless, they reported increased involvement in the more complex areas of diabetes care. Respondents in 1999 were no more likely than those in 1990 to adjust treatment, and gave a full range of opinion for and against proposals to allow nurse prescribing. The relatively low response rate to the 1990 survey may lead to an underestimate of changes between 1990 and 1999.

Conclusions.  Developments in New Zealand primary care are likely to increase the role of primary health care nurses in diabetes. Research and evaluation is required to ascertain whether this increasing role translates into improved outcomes for patients.