Background. Primary care may be a key setting for suicide prevention. However, comparatively little is known about the services available in primary care for suicide prevention. The aims of the current study were to describe services available in general practices for the management of suicidal patients and to examine GPs views on these services. We carried out a questionnaire and interview study in the North West of England. We collected data on GPs views of suicide prevention generally as well as local mental health service provision. Findings. During the study period (2003-2005) we used the National Confidential Inquiry Suicide database to identify 286 general practitioners (GPs) who had registered patients who had died by suicide. Data were collected from GPs and practice managers in 167 practices. Responses suggested that there was greater availability of services and training for general mental health issues than for suicide prevention specifically. The three key themes which emerged from GP interviews were: barriers accessing primary or secondary mental health services; obstacles faced when referring a patient to mental health services; managing change within mental health care services. Conclusions. Health professionals have an important role to play in preventing suicide. However, GPs expressed concerns about the quality of primary care mental health service provision and difficulties with access to secondary mental health services. Addressing these issues could facilitate future suicide prevention in primary care. © 2010 Windfuhr et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.