Perceived difficulty in obtaining hospital admission for acute psychiatric patients was investigated in one health region using a self-reporting method. Over 17 months both inner city and rural districts reported a total of 327 episodes of difficulty in finding a bed. One hundred and six (32%) of reported cases could not be admitted, the remainder being admitted to a ‘leave’ bed, a bed booked for another patient, or elsewhere, solutions likely to compromise care. Attempts to locate a vacant bed required numerous telephone calls and led to considerable delays. Thirty-nine (12%) of the patients were described as particularly ill, but five of them absconded during the prolonged search for a bed, and a further 17 had to remain in the community, pending a vacant bed, including two aggressive and eight suicidal patients. Considerable under-reporting was confirmed. Possible consequences of the situation are discussed.