Nurse-led case management in the National Health Service: bridging clinical and social worlds

Jill Manthorpea1 , Claire Goodmana2, Vari Drennana3, Sue L. Daviesa4, Helen Maseya5, Heather Gagea6, Cheryll Scotta7, Sally Brearleya8 and Steve Iliffea9

a1 Professor of Social Work, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London, London, UK

a2 Professor of Health Services Research, Centre for Research In Primary and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK

a3 Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences, St George's University and Kingston University, London, UK

a4 Research Fellow, Centre for Research In Primary and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK

a5 Research Fellow, Department of Social Work, University of Brunel, London, UK

a6 Department of Economics, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK

a7 Honorary Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK

a8 Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Public and Patient Involvement, King's College London, London, UK

a9 Professor of Primary Care for Older People, Department of Primary Care & Population Studies, University College London, London, UK


Aim To understand the effects of Nurse Case Managers (NCMs) working in primary care in the English National Health Service (NHS) from multiple perspectives and how this new role impacts on social workers, this paper reports and discusses findings from a multi-level study of the role of NCMs working in primary care in the English NHS.

Background Case management as understood by the NHS is equivalent to key-worker type care management as understood by social workers. However, English health and social services are separately organised with different organisational principles; health services are free at the time of need, whereas social services are means-tested and access is restricted.

Methods The study included reviews of evaluations and policy, a national survey of nurse case management in Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and case studies in three purposively selected PCTs. The views and experiences of patients were collected through face-to-face and telephone interviews with 51 older people and their carers, and these experiences are illustrated. In this paper, we further draw on data reporting the views of NCMs and stakeholders from other disciplines and services.

Findings The opinions of older people receiving nurse case management reveal the value of high intensity support to individuals with major health and social needs. The NCMs’ clinical expertise, the improved continuity of care they provided and the psychosocial support they offered, were all emphasised by older people or their carers. NCMs substituted for social workers in some cases, when the older person would not have been eligible for publicly funded social care or had declined it. In other cases, they supplemented social services by identifying unmet needs. In a third category of cases, they may have curtailed social services’ involvement by preventing hospital admission and social services’ involvement as a consequence. The implications of this from the viewpoint of other study participants are discussed.

(Received March 26 2011)

(Revised October 05 2011)

(Accepted October 21 2011)

(Online publication November 24 2011)

Key words

  • care managers;
  • case management;
  • nurses;
  • older people;
  • primary care;
  • social workers