Perceptions and experiences of primary nursing in an ICU: a combined methods approach

Deborah Goode, Kathy Rowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


With the introduction of the Patient's Charter, greater emphasis has been placed on 'named nursing' (Department of Health 1991). While there is much literature extolling the benefits of this method of delivering care to patients (Reed 1988; Manley 1989; Macguire 1991); there is a dearth of empirical studies exploring primary nursing in an adult intensive care unit (ICU). In addition, little is known about how nurses feel about being a 'primary nurse'. The aim of this study was to determine qualified nurses' perceptions and experiences of the effect of primary nursing on patient care in an intensive care environment (ICU) and to explore nurses' experiences of being a primary nurse. This study was carried out in an ICU in Northern Ireland. Primary team nursing was the system of organizing care within this unit. This system consisted of teams of 'primary' and 'associate' nurses. A total of 65 qualified nurses were surveyed. Sixteen nurses took part in focus group interviews. A combined methods approach comprising a questionnaire and focus group interviews was employed for the study. Part one of the questionnaire provided data on professional and demographic details. Part two facilitated nurses to elaborate on their feelings and perceptions of the concept of primary nursing. The focus groups facilitated in-depth exploration of the respondents' personal feelings and experiences about their role as a primary nurse. The data obtained from the two-part questionnaire were analysed using descriptive statistic and content analysis. The data obtained from the focus groups were analysed using content analysis and the development of emerging themes. Analysis of the data revealed that the nurses' views were similar to those highlighted in the existing literature. Nurses perceived primary nursing to relate to the responsibility for the care of one patient, from admission to discharge with the primary nurse assessing, planning, implementing and evaluating care and the associate nurse assisting in the delivery of this care. Thus, continuity of care was seen as the major advantage of primary nursing. The findings, however, suggested that further teaching on the concept of primary nursing was required. In addition, many of the nurses admitted they experienced considerable stress, particularly in relation to their close proximity over a long period of time, with patients and their relatives. This is an important finding and highlights the need for primary nurses in ICU to have the opportunity (in some instances), to be relieved of their responsibility for a named patient, thereby reducing some of the potential for stress. It is acknowledged that the findings of this study may not be generalized beyond the identified sample. Further empirical studies exploring nurses' perceptions and experiences of primary nursing in an ICU are therefore needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-303
JournalIntensive and Critical Care Nursing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Oct 2001


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