Benefits and limitations of nurses taking on aspects of the clinical role of doctors in primary care: integrative literature review

J Adv Nurs. 2010 Aug;66(8):1658-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05327.x.


Aim: This paper presents an integrative literature review of studies exploring the benefits and limitations of the recent expansion of the clinical role of nurses working in general practice in the United Kingdom.

Background: Similar clinical outcomes and high levels of satisfaction with consultations undertaken by nurse practitioners compared to general practitioners in primary care have been reported in a Cochrane review [Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2004) vol. 5, p. CD001271]. Since then, nurse consultations have increased considerably as general practitioners have delegated part of their clinical workload to other general practice nurses. However, whether all general practice nurses can fulfil this extended role remains open to question.

Method: An integrative review was performed. Nine electronic databases were searched. UK studies were included if they were published after the previous Cochrane review, i.e. between 2004 and 2009.

Results: Eight studies were identified, most using qualitative methodology. The evidence suggested that the changes in nurses' role have been predominantly driven by the perceived increase in workload arising from the new general practitioner contract. Delegating work to nurses provided a means of organizing workload within a practice without necessarily allowing patient choice. Patients generally thought that all general practice nurses would be able to deal with simple conditions, but they would prefer to consult with a general practitioner if they thought it necessary. There were concerns about nurses' knowledge base, particularly in diagnostics and therapeutics, and their levels of training and competence in roles formerly undertaken by general practitioners.

Conclusion: There have been few studies in this key area of healthcare policy. There is a need for better training and support for nurses undertaking roles in consultation and for patients' views to be better represented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Databases as Topic
  • Delegation, Professional*
  • Family Practice / economics
  • Family Practice / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Research
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Practice Patterns, Nurses' / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / economics
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • State Medicine / economics
  • State Medicine / organization & administration
  • United Kingdom
  • Workload