Much of palliative care takes place in the patient's home. Out-of-hours service provision can be an area of concern. With the aim of improving this service, the former Calderdale and Kirklees Health Authority introduced an out-of-hours protocol for palliative care in the community. After 1 year the authors examined the experiences of primary care practitioners in using the protocol. Twenty district nurses and 15 GPs from 25 general practices in Calderdale, Huddersfield and North Kirklees took part in the study, which involved face-to-face group and individual telephone interviews. Practitioners felt that the out-of-hours protocol had made a positive contribution to palliative care in the community and that the out-of-hours handover form played a key role in improving communications and the coordination of services. For many participants, the protocol encouraged a more anticipatory approach to care and enabled better access to drugs and to specialist advice. The main areas of concern related to updating patient information on the handover forms, and to shortcomings in the support offered to carers. Future developments should address these issues. Although recognizing the dangers of generalization from research of this type, the findings offer encouragement to others considering similar schemes.