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J Nurs Manag. 2007 Nov;15(8):847-52.

Nurses working in primary and community care settings in England: problems and challenges in identifying numbers.

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  • 1Centre for Research in Primary Care, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.



One third of the primary care nursing workforce is aged 50 years and over. Workforce planning is essential if primary care is to ensure that there are appropriate numbers of nurses available to replace the loss of experienced nurses as they approach retirement.


As part of an ongoing study to explore the factors influencing retention of female nurses over the age of 50 years in the primary care nursing workforce, a questionnaire survey targeting all community nurses employed in five Primary Care Trusts was undertaken. Accurate statistics on the number and type of community nurse employed in the five Primary Care Trusts were sought to: (i) identify a denominator to accurately identify the response rates to questionnaires in the survey of Primary Care Trusts; and (ii) to compare the Primary Care Trust data with Department of Health statistics to investigate the accuracy of workforce data. A number of problems with locating accurate primary care nursing workforce statistics were identified.


The purpose of this paper is to highlight the difficulties inherent in collating workforce data and the implications for future workforce planning, both locally and nationally. The impact on research is also highlighted.


An ageing nursing workforce indicates that primary care nursing will experience significant reductions in its workforce. Local and National workforce statistics for primary care are flawed. There are significant gaps in primary care data for school and practice nurses. There needs to be clarification and a consensus for the term 'community nurse'. The expansion of the public health role for school nurses is seriously challenged because of limited availability of appropriately qualified nurses and an urgent need for an investigation into school nursing statistics. Future workforce planning and development needs to be based on accurate and reliable statistics, to plan for an ageing nursing workforce. The quality of research in primary care is compromised because of the lack of availability of accurate nursing workforce data.


Effective delivery of the NHS Plan requires a thorough understanding of the composition of the primary care nursing workforce and targets need to be based on accurate and reliable workforce statistics.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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