We are excited to share the interim findings from important research commissioned by NHS England. Our work creates a comprehensive framework for evaluating the critical role nurses play in the front line of primary care.

Nurses are a familiar sight in general practice surgeries, but their role is often misunderstood.  The role that nurses play in primary practice has evolved into a pivotal one – leading many aspects of care on behalf of the practice, working as ‘super-connectors’ to join up care that is increasingly person-centric, holistic and preventative in nature.  Yet they are still represented widely in the media and in public perception as secondary to GPs, ‘just a nurse’, or as the people who dress wounds and take blood samples. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth – nurses in primary practice are skilled, confident and resourceful, working independently with high levels of autonomy and authority to deliver expert patient care.

With an ageing population and increasing co-morbidities (many of us living longer, but less healthy lives) the NHS is under increasing demand.  As a service it has ambitions to transform the very nature of healthcare – working in a more joined up way, with patients playing their part in keeping well and managing long terms conditions such as asthma and diabetes for themselves.  The lynchpin in this evolving model is the nursing workforce at the heart of the primary care practice. However the full picture of what nurses do, how they help to deliver the NHS ambition and the unique set of skills they bring has never been articulated in a single narrative that helps us all to appreciate and place proper value on the profession.

Derived from a mix of research methods, we have created a framework for describing the value that primary care nurses deliver in 4 distinct, yet overlapping arenas:  patients, the practice, the community and the wider NHS.   The framework then describes 8 distinct qualities and roles that nurses have that – either singly or in combination –  bring about that value and which are not fully replicated in any other healthcare professionals.

Our work at this stage is a hypothesis – and one that we are currently testing with further research groups – but it is one that is resonating well with all kinds of audiences. Our full report, due to be published by NHS England in late April 2021, expands the framework, incorporates new evidence and moves on to illustrate the economic value of the work nurses do in primary practice.  The final report will also explore some of the risks and challenges we’re hearing about in our research. Not least amongst these is the fact that primary (or general) practice is set to become the foundation of the future NHS model under its Long Term Plan – with nurses in general practice playing a central role  – with recruiting new nurses into this branch of the profession being more difficult because of its lack of a clear profile.

Our research goes some way towards addressing that issue. By drawing the often hidden work of nurses into the light – by showing that their role is crucial and hard to replace – we can start to give primary care nurses the status and recognition they deserve, and to ensure that the profession is placed on a firmer and more resilient foundation for the future.

Click here to download the interim report.

Note:  This interim report is offered as a preview of our findings and comments or feedback are welcome. It should be read as work in progress and with the expectation that the fine detail and supporting diagrams will evolve as we incorporate further research findings.