Determining older people's needs for care by Registered Nurses: the Nursing Needs Assessment Tool


  • Paul Slater BSc MSc,

  • Brendan McCormack DPhil PGCEA RGN RMN

Paul Slater,
Room 17C03,
School of Nursing,
University of Ulster,
Belfast BT37 0QB,


Aims.  This paper reports a study to determine an appropriate framework for assessing older people's needs for nursing within the policy of ‘free nursing’, and to attempt to identify valid, reliable and usable assessment tool for determining this eligibility.

Background.  In 2001, the United Kingdom government introduced ‘free nursing care’ legislation, eligibility for which was subject to a nursing needs assessment. This paper outlines the search for and subsequent development of an appropriate tool for assessing older people's eligibility for free nursing care in Northern Ireland.

Methods.  Following a systematic search of the literature, existing tools used in ascertaining older people's nursing needs were identified. Each tool was systematically assessed in accordance with criteria of validity, reliability, usability, comprehensiveness of assessment and ability to quantify nursing care needs. From the findings, an assessment instrument, Nursing Needs Assessment Tool was subsequently developed and tested. Paired assessments of older people were undertaken independently by assessor dyads and evaluated statistically. Assessors’ opinions on the usability of the instrument were sought through a focus group.

Results.  One hundred and ten paired assessments were returned (63%). Overall there was 65% agreement between assessors. Kappa scores indicated good levels of inter-rater reliability. Correlation co-efficient measures reinforced these results. Findings from the focus group confirmed the validity, usability and comprehensiveness of the tool.

Conclusions.  The Nursing Needs Assessment Tool is a reliable, valid and usable instrument. This has major implications for the standardization of assessment for older people.