Needs assessment and decision making in the Plunket nurse setting : what's the story? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Philosophy (Nursing), Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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Programmes delivered to populations of young children have had a high profile in recent years, as the relationship between childhood health and long term wellbeing is emphasised and funders and policy makers seek effective interventions to reduce health outcome disparity between some groups of children. Plunket nurses are employed by the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society (Inc) (Plunket) to deliver a programme of contacts to families with children aged from birth to five years, under a primary health care programme known as the Well Child Framework (Ministry of Health, 2010c). Seven universal or ‘core’ visits result in an assessment of family health need which informs decisions about the additional support offered to reduce risk to child health outcomes and improve health equity. This study was undertaken to clarify how Plunket nurses think about needs assessment, describe how Plunket nurses make decisions when planning care, and explore the influences on Plunket nurse needs assessment and decision making. A constructivist paradigm provided the framework for qualitative interviews with seven Plunket nurses. Data were analysed using narrative and thematic methods to construct three group narratives. The findings add to knowledge of New Zealand well child practice established through the limited previous studies in the Plunket nurse setting. Plunket nurses’ relationships with families emerged as the foundation for needs assessment, a process study participants described as complex, where a range of social, economic and community determinants are considered to establish family resilience and identify risks to child health outcomes. Decisions about planned care are contingent on family participation and agreement, and are influenced by peer and Clinical Leader supervision, the nurse’s knowledge and experience, and the available referral options. The study findings emphasise the importance of facilitative funding models to accommodate the unpredictable nature of work with families in the community, and consistent leadership to translate the underpinnings of service specifications to the reality of practice. Support for the Clinical Leader role, and further research to establish Plunket nurse professional development needs and to improve understanding of the dynamics in relationships between Plunket nurses and families are recommended.
Medical care, Needs assessment, Infant health services, Community health nursing, Visiting nurses, New Zealand