Background: Rapid Access Outpatient Units (RAOUs) have been suggested as an alternative to hospital inpatient units for the management of some acutely unwell children. These units can provide ambulatory care, delivered close to home, and may prevent unnecessary hospital admission. There are no qualitative data on the views of primary care practitioners regarding these types of facilities. The aim of the study was to explore the opinions of primary care practitioners regarding a newly established RAOU.
Methods: The RAOU was established locally at a district general hospital when inpatient beds were closed and moved to an inpatient centre, based six miles away at the tertiary teaching hospital.Qualitative, practice based group interviews with primary care practitioners (general practitioners (GPs), nurse practitioners and practice nurses) on their experiences of the RAOU. The data collection consisted of three practice based interviews with 14 participants. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Thematic content analysis was used to evaluate the data.
Results: There was positive feedback regarding ease of telephone access for referral, location, and the value of a service staffed by senior doctors where children could be observed, investigated and discharged quickly. There was confusion regarding the referral criteria for the assessment unit and where to send certain children. A majority of the practitioners felt the utility of the RAOU was restricted by its opening hours. Most participants felt they lacked sufficient information regarding the remit and facilities of the unit and this led to some uneasiness regarding safety and long term sustainability.
Conclusion: Practitioners considered that the RAOU offered a rapid senior opinion, flexible short term observation, quick access to investigations and was more convenient for patients. There were concerns regarding opening hours, safety of patients and lack of information about the unit's facilities. There was confusion about which children should be sent to the unit. This study raises questions regarding policy in regard to the organisation of paediatric services. It highlights that when establishing alternative services to local inpatient units, continual communication and engagement of primary care is essential if the units are to function effectively.