Several recent high profile failures in the UK health care system have promoted strong debate on compassion and care in nursing. A number of papers articulating a range of positions within this debate have been published in this journal over the past two and a half years. These articulate a diverse range of theoretical perspectives and have been drawn together here in an attempt to bring some coherence to the debate and provide an overview of the key arguments and positions taken by those involved. In doing this we invite the reader to consider their own position in relation to the issues raised and to consider the impact of this for their own practice. Finally the paper offers some sense of how individual practitioners might use their understanding of the debates to ensure delivery of good nursing care.