This study aims to assess the service needs of residual hospital populations and the adequacy of the alternative facilities provided for them following the closure of psychiatric hospitals. The remaining 368 long-stay patients in four representative English hospitals scheduled for closure within 1 year were assessed by means of a standardized schedule devised to rate problem behaviours. The residual populations consisted predominantly of elderly, male and very long-stay patients. The most frequent problem behaviours were hostility, physical aggression and incontinence. The one hospital which allowed new admissions to continue indefinitely had the highest proportion of problematic patients. Alternative care facilities were provided by a diverse range of agencies. Large residential homes were the predominant type of provision for most patients, and private nursing homes often accommodated mixed groups of elderly people. NHS trusts catered for most of the 'difficult to place' patients within specialized facilities, based in the community. There were some indications that compromises led to insufficient and understaffed specialist facilities. In view of the increasing demand for long-term intensively staffed facilities, this policy might put an extra burden on the local health services.