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Nursing work in NHS Direct: constructing a nursing identity in the call-centre environment


Sherrill Ray Snelgrove, Swansea University, School Health Science, Sketty, Swansea SA3 3BB, UK .
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The introduction of nurse-led telephone helplines for patients to have access to information and advice has led to the development of a new kind of practise for nurses. This study focuses on the ways NHS Direct (NHSD) nurses construct a nursing identity and shape their work in a call-centre environment. The empirical findings are drawn from a study investigating the impact of NHSD on professional nursing issues that was part of a wider evaluation of the service in South Wales, UK. Data were gathered from responses to free text questions included in a questionnaire sent to nurses in three NHSD sites. Further data were collected from focus groups held with NHSD nurses. The nurses defend their identity as nurses rather than call-centre workers. The discourses of the nurses show a strong alignment with the traditional values of nursing, encompassing holistic and empathetic practise that has moved with the nurses across locales. We argue that the nurses frame a nursing identity in NHSD around the importance of previous experience and claim to practise holistic nursing. However, the development of new skills and adaptation of old skills in response to the demand of NHSD work challenges normative notions of traditional ‘hands-on’ models of practise and indicates a possible movement towards a cognitive model of nursing based upon knowledge, analytical and communication skills that reflects the transformative and dynamic nature of professional identity and boundaries.