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A 1-day census was performed on 341 patients at 10 day hospitals in a UK Region to compare day hospitals and to predict length of stay. Only 13% of day hospital places were used as an alternative to in-patient admission. The majority of places were used for 'rehabilitation', but nearly half of the patients with psychotic disorders were only receiving general support - such patients could have their needs served in a day centre. In total, 40.2% of the variation in length of stay could be explained on multiple regression. Even when age, diagnosis and source of referral were accounted for, there remained significant variation in length of stay reflecting the stated policy of each hospital. These findings are in contrast to similar analyses of in-patient data. If psychiatric day hospitals are to be used as a cost-effective alternative to in-patient admission, many of them would need to change their policy.