This paper reports on an evaluation of the role and contribution of outreach in the management of the critically ill ward patient using Stake's Responsive Model (Stake, 1975) and case study methodology (Simons, 1980). Twenty cases were examined, purposefully sampling all staff involved in the case identified by an initial interview with the outreach nurse. In total, 80 interviews were carried out, 20 with the outreach nurses and 54 with other members of health care teams involved in the cases, and six further targeted in-depth interviews with senior anaesthetic and nursing staff. The outreach contribution which emerged from the data analysis consisted of four core categories: action (getting things done, getting decisions made and following through), focus and vision (concentrating on one patient and having a vision of what action was needed to meet their care needs), orchestration (a communication and co-ordinating role) and expertise (bringing critical care skills and experience to the bedside). These categories were validated and developed in the six in-depth interviews. Three themes emerged from the data describing aspects of the acute care context in which outreach operates. The interviews revealed a battleweary workforce overwhelmed by the complex and increased demands of the critically ill ward patient. The medical and nursing teams at the bedside are inexperienced and often unsupported by senior clinical decision-makers. This is dealt with by 'passing the buck' creating gaps and delays in care management which are the problems addressed by the outreach contribution. Outreach may solve problems for the critically ill ward patient, but the underlying causes remain poorly understood.