Urinary incontinence is a common and debilitating problem. Its prevalence increases with advancing age, and heavy reliance on containment products results in high costs for community services, yet evidence exists that effective treatments can be provided in primary care. This quasi-experimental study compared the knowledge, practice and perceptions of their role by community nurses before (Phase 1) and after (Phase 3) the introduction of evidence-based clinical guidelines for continence care. Local guidelines were developed from nationally published guidelines and introduced into two localities of a community NHS trust (the intervention group) with a supporting educational programme during Phase 2. An audit of patient notes showed statistically significant improvements in assessment details recorded by the intervention group, and in the numbers of patients for whom a treatment plan was identified at Phase 3. Data collected from questionnaires, interviews and focus groups showed that the majority of community nurses in both the intervention and control groups believed that their role should involve the assessment and first-line treatment/management of urinary incontinence. However, limitations in their knowledge of continence care and difficulties in enhancing that knowledge base were identified. Three themes relating to role perceptions emerged from interviews, namely assessment skills, patient capacity and role restrictions. The study raises questions about what may constitute realistic expectations of role development for community nurses. Greater development of multidisciplinary teamworking, including enhancement of the link nurse role to provide co-ordination in continence care, could be a way forward.
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