There is currently strong pressure for nursing to base its education and practice upon rigorous research. A strong research foundation is perceived as integral both to the formation of a distinct discipline, and also to the establishment of the profession. The broader implications of this initiative have, however, received little attention in the literature. This paper discusses the current status and organization of nursing research in the United Kingdom in the light of the history of its development alongside other research endeavours. The differing agendas of policy makers, practitioners and researchers are examined to ask the question 'Does research inform either policy or practice?' This issue is explored through a consideration of the constraints which may impinge upon the successful initiation and conduct of research in nursing, and its utilization to improve health care.