Practice nurses and the effects of the new general practitioner contract in the English National Health Service: the extension of a professional project?

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Apr;68(7):1206-12. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.01.039. Epub 2009 Feb 28.


This paper reports the impact on nurses working in primary health care settings of changes to the general practitioner (GP) contract in England implemented in 2004. Previous changes to the GP contract in 1990, which gave financial rewards for health promotion activities, were seen as enabling nurses to take on work that GPs did not want and providing an impetus for the development of a professional project (Broadbent, J. (1998). Practice nurses and the effects of the new general practitioner contract in the British NHS: the advent of a professional project? Social Science & Medicine, 47(4), 497-506). Our study, which involved interviews with nurses from 20 practices, finds that nurses are taking on work which has previously been the exclusive preserve of medical professionals. An increasing emphasis in nurses' accounts on technical skills and knowledge may help decouple nursing from a narrative of caring, which has been seen as detracting from professional advancement. Our research suggests that practice nurse work is changing to reflect a more medical (and masculine) orientation to service delivery. At the same time, nursing work is described as routine and template driven, which may limit claims to 'professional' status. The reaction of some practice nurses to Health Care Assistants encroaching on what was previously practice nurse territory suggests a policing of boundaries, rather than an inclusive approach to colleagues within the nursing team. This resonates with Davies' (Davies, C. (1995). Gender and the professional predicament in nursing. Bucks: Open University Press) suggestion that professionalisation as a process involves compliance with a masculine notion of professionalism (autonomous, elite, individual, divisive, detached) which marginalises feminine attributes and devalues the work done by women. The study also raises questions about the role of caring in general practice settings where nurses choose to prioritise other concerns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Contract Services / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Contract Services / organization & administration
  • Family Practice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing, Practical
  • Professional Practice / trends
  • State Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence
  • State Medicine / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom
  • Workload