Background: The regulation of emergency care has featured prominently in Brazil's federal health agenda since the 2000s. The aim of this study was to review up to the present day the implementation of the National Emergency Care Policy.
Methods: The methods employed were documental review, analysis of official data and 11 interviews conducted with federal, state and local managers. The results were analyzed using Giddens' Structuration Theory, relating the cognitive abilities of the agents to their action strategies, in view of the structural dimensions, rules and resources provided by the federal administration.
Results: Federal policy for emergency care in Brazil can be divided into three stages: from 1998 to 2003, the initial regulation; from 2004 to 2008, the expansion of the Mobile Emergency Medical Services (SAMU, in Brazil); and from 2009 onwards, the implementation of stationary pre-hospital care facilities, known as Emergency Care Units (UPA). The structuration elements identified for the emergency care policy were the public health system guidelines, legislation, standards and federal financing. Significant restrictions were found such as lack of hospital beds and intensive care treatment, gaps in the information system for producing evidence for management, ineffective Management Committees, as well as a low degree of commitment among physicians to the services.
Conclusion: Considering the financial constraints imposed on the SUS (Brazilian Unified Health System), emergency care was identified as a political priority with financial support. The individual actions by emergency care workers and governmental agents typified the first period of the policy, structuring the basis and producing changes in the circumstances of action. Federal strategies can be equated to the rules and resources provided to support the implementation process of the policy.