Understanding the impetus for major systems change: A multiple case study of decisions and non-decisions to reconfigure emergency and urgent care services

Health Policy. 2019 Aug;123(8):728-736. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2019.05.018. Epub 2019 Jun 1.


Objective: The optimal organisation of emergency and urgent care services (EUCS) is a perennial problem internationally. Similar to other countries, the Health Service Executive in Ireland pursued EUCS reconfiguration in response to quality and safety concerns, unsustainable costs and workforce issues. However, the implementation of reconfiguration has been inconsistent at a regional level. Our aim was to identify the factors that led to this inconsistency.

Methods: Using a multiple case study design, six case study regions represented full, partial and little/no reconfiguration at emergency departments (EDs). Data from documents and key stakeholder interviews were analysed using a framework approach with cross-case analysis.

Results: The impetus to reconfigure ED services was triggered by patient safety events, and to a lesser extent by having a region-specific plan and an obvious starting point for changes. However, the complexity of the next steps and political influence impeded reconfiguration in several regions. Implementation was more strategic in regions that reconfigured later, facilitated by clinical leadership and "lead-in time" to plan and sell changes.

Conclusion: While the global shift towards centralisation of EUCS is driven by universal challenges, decisions about when, where and how much to implement are influenced by local drivers including context, people and politics. This can contribute to a public perception of inequity and distrust in proposals for major systems change.

Keywords: Case study; Context; Delivery of healthcare; Emergency care; Implementation; Qualitative research; Reconfiguration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / economics
  • Ambulatory Care / organization & administration*
  • Ambulatory Care / standards
  • Decision Making, Organizational*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Leadership
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Patient Safety
  • Politics
  • Qualitative Research