Three-quarters of primary care nurses have admitted to lacking even basic training in treating allergies, and more than half say they feel "uncomfortable" seeing patients with allergy-related conditions.
This is despite the fact that in the UK the incidence of common allergic diseases has trebled in the last 20 years – one in three will be affected by allergic disease.
The findings come from a survey of more than 1,100 primary care nurses by Nursing in Practice, in which only 25% said they had any kind of training in allergy, and 53% felt uncomfortable working with patients with allergy-related conditions.
"Without formal training I'm lacking in confidence," said one practice nurse from Scotland. "I don't feel I know enough about allergy to be able to advise on anything more than on a superficial level," commented a practice nurse from Sheffield.
"Training in 'general' allergy is difficult for nurses to access locally," says John Collard, Clinical Director of Allergy UK. "The few nurses who have had training have normally done this in relation to a particular condition relating to allergy, such as asthma or eczema."
In addition, 23% of nurses who responded to the survey described themselves as the main nurse in their practice dealing with allergy. Yet, surprisingly, only 29% of these had any form of accredited training in allergy.
According to Marilyn Eveleigh, Consultant Editor of Nursing in Practice: "It is frustrating that nurses won't/can't undertake training. A one-day intense session would make such a difference to nursing confidence and patient support. Training is available but prioritising, funding and capacity are often lacking in primary care."
She added: "Allergy is a condition ideally suited to management in primary care by GPs, nurses and pharmacists. Practice-based commissioning groups would be well advised to consider this as a cost-effective service for patients."