Aim The subject of the study described in this article is an activity analysis of nursing care given on an acute surgical ward at a District General Hospital as compared to that given on a rehabilitation ward at a Community Hospital. Methods Obtaining a global overview of nursing activities on the two study wards was a focal issue. The project consisted of undertaking in excess of 60 h of observation with 10 registered nurses (RNs) of various grades in the two settings. Findings It was found that both sets of nurses undertook similar types of activities. Overall more indirect care activities than direct care occurred on both wards. These findings are similar to the findings of other studies where the majority of RNs' activities are said to relate to the co-ordinating and management aspects of patient care. Conclusion It is concluded that the ‘glue function’ or maintaining a holistic overview of patient care given by all members of the health care team is an important part of nursing care delivery.