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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Patients 'prefer nurses'
Practice nurse
Nurse practitioners are popular with patients
Patients are often more satisfied when they see a nurse than a GP during a consultation at a doctor's surgery, researchers have found.

Nurses have also been shown to save the NHS money when they take on tasks traditionally carried out by GPs.

A study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), focused on approximately 1,800 patients with minor illnesses who attended one of five GP surgeries in South East London and Kent.

Patients who saw a nurse gave them a 78.6% satisfaction rating, compared with doctors who were given a 76.4% score.

Cost of a consultation
With a nurse practitioner - 18.11
With a GP - 20.70

One of the key reasons why nurse consultations were more popular was the fact that they were able to spend more time with patients - an average of two minutes longer than GPs.

It is well known that patients are more satisfied if they feel they have been given sufficient time to talk through their concerns.

But many GPs argue that their workload is so huge that they simply cannot spend as much time as they would like with each patient.

However, the researchers, lead by Dr Chau Shum, a GP in Walderslade, Kent, found that nurses and doctors wrote prescriptions for a similar proportion of patients and there was no difference in clinical outcome between the two groups of patients.

About 75% of patients were treated without any input from the GP.

The researchers said their findings indicated that nurses were able "to offer a clinically effective service".

However, they warned that nurses might struggle to cope with rarer conditions.

Separate study

The findings were echoed by a separate study carried out by a team from the Department of General Practice, University College of Wales College of Medicine, which compared consultations given by GPs and nurse practitioners in 10 general practices in South Wales and South West England.

It fits in with our own priorities for breaking down barriers between different groups of staff in the NHS

Department of Health

It found that patients consulting nurse practitioners were generally more satisfied with their care, having been given longer consultations and more information about their illnesses.

There was no difference in the rate at which symptoms cleared up or the amount of drugs prescribed between doctors and nurses.

A third report, also published in the BMJ, found that nurse practitioner consultations are cheaper, even though they last longer and the patient is more likely to be advised to return for a follow-up.

Nurses have assumed a greater role in primary care in recent years.

Specially-trained nurses can now prescribe drugs for minor conditions and treat people with chronic illnesses like asthma.

The influence of nurses is set to increase still further with the development of services such as the telephone helpline NHS Direct.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We support this research. It fits in with our own priorities for breaking down barriers between different groups of staff in the NHS and ensuring that GPs can use their time and skills to maximum benefit."

Dr Peter Holden, of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "Nurses are great within their limitations, but people must not expect too much. Nurses are not capable of seeing a full range of patients."

He said nurses did not have the ability of GPs to manage risk when dealing with patients whose symptoms were not simple to diagnose.

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See also:

15 Oct 99 | Health
A&E nurses 'as good as doctors'
19 Nov 99 | Health
Nurses' role set to expand
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