Primary care research networks have been established internationally since the 1960s to enable diverse practitioners to engage in and develop research and education and implement research evidence.
The newly established Western Research and Education Network (WestREN) is one such network consisting of a collaboration between the Discipline of General Practice at NUI Galway and 71 West of Ireland general practices. In September 2009 all member practices were issued with a questionnaire with two objectives: to describe the structure and characteristics of the member practices and to compare the results to the national profile of Irish general practice.
A postal survey was used followed by one written and one email reminder.
A response rate of 73% (52/71) was achieved after two reminders.
Half of practices were in a rural location, one quarter located in an urban setting and another quarter in a mixed location.
Ninety-four per cent of general practitioners practice from purpose-built or adapted premises with under 6% of practices being attached to the general practitioner's residence. Over 96% of general practitioners use appointment systems with 58% using appointment only.
All practices surveyed were computerised, with 80% describing their practices as 'fully computerised'. Almost 60% of general practitioners are coding chronic diagnoses with 20% coding individual consultations. Twenty-five per cent of general practitioners were single-handed with the majority of practices having at least two general practitioners, and a mean number of general practitioners of 2.4. Ninety-two per cent of practices employed a practice nurse with 30% employing more than one nurse.
Compared to the national profile, WestREN practices appear somewhat larger, and more likely to be purpose-built and in rural areas. National trends apparent between 1982 and 1992, such as increasing computerisation and practice nurse availability, appear to be continuing.
WestREN is a new university-affiliated general practice research network in Ireland. Survey of its initial membership confirms WestREN practices to be broadly representative of the national profile and has provided us with valuable information on the current and changing structure of Irish general practice.