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Keywords:

  • focus groups;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • professional boundaries;
  • qualitative study;
  • role development

Aims and objectives.  To explore the perceptions and experiences of nurse and allied health professional consultants and key stakeholders.

Background.  Nurse and allied health professional consultants’ roles were introduced in the United Kingdom in 1999 with defined role criteria and a remit to improve patient outcomes. Although these roles have now existed for over a decade, there is a lack of research as to whether these roles have achieved their intended impact on clinical care. Through an exploration of the experiences of consultant nurses and allied health professionals and key stakeholders who work with these practitioners, a greater understanding of the consultant role can be achieved.

Design.  Qualitative.

Methods.  A purposive sample of seven non-medical consultants (five nurses, one physiotherapist and a pharmacist) and eight stakeholders took part in focus group interviews. Each focus group was audio-taped and lasted between 1·5–2 hours. Content analysis was used to interpret the data.

Results.  Four main themes were identified: (1) Role interpretation – core features include clinical practice, leadership, education and research. Debate surrounded the need to incorporate managerial responsibilities into the role. (2) Role implementation required political skills and emotional intelligence. (3) Role impact especially on clinical practice was a major priority for both groups. (4) Challenges included lack of organisational and administrative support.

Conclusion.  There was consensus amongst the two groups regarding the value of the role, key role functions and skills and the emerging impact on clinical practice.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Both groups were able to identify the clinical impact of the role including helping patients manage chronic pain, reducing the need for follow-up appointments and managing emergency admissions. To capture the clinical diversity of the roles, a variety of evaluation strategies should be implemented.