Background: Out-of-hours general practitioners (GPs) cover the community over a significant proportion of a given week, and palliative care patients are seen as a priority. Little is known about how well these GPs feel supported in their line of work and whether communication exchanges work well for the proportion of their patients who have palliative care needs. For this study, GPs who provide out-of-hours care were interviewed in order to explore factors that they identified as detrimental or beneficial for good communication between themselves, patients, relatives and other professionals, specifically to palliative care encounters.
Methods: Nine GPs were interviewed using face-to-face semi-structured interviews. All nine GPs worked regular out-of-hours sessions. Data from transcripts was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
Results: A predominant theme expressed by GPs related to constraints within the system provided by the local private company owned out-of-hours provider. A strong feeling of 'being alone out there' emerged, with some GPs more willing to call for help than others, and others expressing their concern at access to pharmacies and medication being very inconsistent.Out-of-hours GPs felt left alone on occasion, unable to access daytime services and not knowing who to call for advice. Information hand-over systems from in-hours to out-of-hours with regard to palliative care were felt to be inadequate. Out-of-hours doctors interviewed felt left out of the care loop; handover sheets from specialist palliative care providers were a rarity.
Conclusions: Out-of-hours services need to be mindful of the needs of the GPs they employ, in particular relating to the palliative care they provide in this setting. Other healthcare professionals should aim to keep their local out-of-hours service informed about palliative care patients they may be called to see.