Background: Since 1998, Irish general practice has developed 11 out-of-hours co-operatives, covering almost 40% of the population.The co-operatives vary in terms of triage mechanisms, treatment centres and domiciliary visits but no data exist on their role in the management of emergencies in the community.
Aims: To describe the role of co-operatives in the management of emergencies, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.
Method: A questionnaire survey for a 12-month period completed by all 11 co-operatives described structures and activity levels. Semi-structured interviews with senior management and GPs at five randomly selected co-operatives explored their understanding of the role of co-operatives.
Results: The incidence of emergencies is very variable (10% of all contacts-virtually nil) with general reliance on the skills of triage staff rather than use of protocols to identify emergencies. Eight of 11 co-operatives provide a domiciliary service with some responding to calls from ambulance services and Gardai for medical assistance. There are very limited liaison structures with ambulance services at any level. Interviews with staff reveal concern with a perceived role as a service dealing with 999 type calls rather than with emergencies encountered in the course of normal general practice work.
Conclusions: Clarification is urgently required of the extent to which GP co-operatives and ambulance services support each other. Examples include procedures for passing calls between services, mutual understanding of each others roles and development of common procedures.