Background - Since 1994, district nurses and health visitors in the United Kingdom have been able to prescribe from a limited formulary. Items which are prescribed by these nurses are wound care products, incontinence appliances and medicinal preparations such as paracetamol and emollients. There is a planned expansion of prescribing by nurses, in terms of both the range of products and drugs that are prescribable and the types of nurses eligible for training for this new role. Objective - To investigate patterns of nurse prescribing among community nurses in three primary care trusts in the United Kingdom. Methods - Postal survey to 164 community nurses who were qualified to prescribe. Responses were received from 129 (79 per cent) with 35 nurses identifying themselves as not prescribing and excluded from the sample; 93 (72 per cent) of the questionnaires were entered on a database for analysis. Key findings - Prescribing costs for district nurses ranged from £7.65 to £18,053 (median £2,023.64) and for health visitors from £0.73 to £2,556 (median £42.77) for a 12-month period. Nineteen per cent (n=28) of community nurses had decided not to prescribe even though they were trained to do so. Infrastructures and mechanisms to support nurses with nurse prescribing have been slow to emerge. Nurses perceived that their ability to prescribe was benefiting their patients and that they were providing better care. Community nurses cautiously welcomed the proposed extension of nurse prescribing. Conclusions -Nurse prescribing has allowed community nurses more autonomy in managing a patient's total care. Our findings suggest that around one-quarter of nurses qualified to prescribe are not doing so. With the imminent extension of nurse prescribing for other nurses, action is needed by primary care trusts to put structures in place to ensure that nurses take on board this extension and challenge to their role.