Practice nurses' workload and consultation patterns.


BACKGROUND. There are calls for the role of the practice nurse to be developed and extended. Before areas for further training and education can be identified, baseline data are needed on practice nurses' current activity and workload. AIM. A study was undertaken to analyse the activity of practice nurses in two large inner city general practices and to assess the skills mix of the nursing staff required to meet the needs of the practices. METHOD. The study practices had a combined list of 26,000 patients, 80% of patients attracting a deprivation allowance. Each practice employed three practice nurses. A nurse activity index with 45 codes was constructed to describe patient-nurse consultations. Activity codes were categorized into traditional treatment tasks, extended role tasks or diagnosis and management tasks. For eight months, practice nurses in practices Y and Z recorded activity index codes for each patient consultation. Practice Y also recorded the source of referral and the age and sex of the patient. RESULTS. There were 13,898 practice nurse consultations during the study period, equivalent to an annual nurse consultation rate of 0.8 per patient. Compared with the practice population as a whole, the patients attending the practice nurses in practice Y were older (mean age 43 years versus 37 years, P < 0.001). Those attending the practice nurses in practice Y were also more likely to be female (61% of consultations were with female patients compared with 50% of the practice population as a whole, P < 0.001). In practice Y, patients referred themselves to the practice nurse in 42% of consultations, 32% were follow-up consultations and in 25% of cases the patient had been referred by a doctor. The most common reasons for nurse consultation were blood tests (15% of procedures in practice Y and 18% in practice Z) and dressings (13% in both practices). Most procedures in practices Y and Z were in the traditional treatment category (61%), 26% were in the extended role category and 9% in the diagnosis and management category (3% coded 'other', 1% uncoded). Between practices, the greatest difference in recorded procedures was for asthma check ups (7% of procedures in practice Y compared with 2% in practice Z). CONCLUSION. This study describes the workload of practice nurses in two inner city practices over eight months. Other practices could use the activity index to make comparisons over time and between practices. Up to 60% of nurses' work in the study practices could be done by a nurse without extended training and up to 30% could be done by a health care assistant, but with some loss of quality. It is suggested that half the nursing hours available to a practice should be offered by a nurse with extended training in order to undertake and develop extended role tasks and diagnosis and management tasks.

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