Background. Almost 10 years ago senior United Kingdom nurses met at Heathrow Airport to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing nursing. One aspect of this `Heathrow Debate' was to encourage nurses to work closer with members of the public. The resulting report stated that nurses have not been effective in working outside their professional area and, in particular, they have not been adept at working in partnership with the public. Aim. The aim of this paper is to report a study to obtain the views of general practitioners (GPs), community nurses and members of the public on how the public perceive community nursing. A further aim was to explore the perceptions of senior health care managers and policymakers about public involvement in primary care. Methods. A two-stage Delphi investigation was undertaken with community nurses (n = 38), GPs (n = 14) and members of the public (n = 8). In addition, one-to-one interviews were carried out with 34 senior health service managers and policymakers. Findings. There was agreement on the following issues: community nurses must work more closely with members of the public; there is a lack of public understanding on the roles of community nurses and specialist nurses; there is public support for nurse prescribing; there is a preference for seeing the community nurse as opposed to the GP; and people prefer one nurse to care for them rather than a variety of nurses. Comments from managers and senior policymakers showed agreement on the public being involved in primary care, but an acknowledgement that this was problematic. A number of recommendations are outlined.