Many studies have shown that a high proportion of patients attending accident and emergency (A&E) departments have only trivial or non-urgent complaints. A&E staff treat these inappropriate attenders while recognizing that this detracts from the care given to more serious cases. Dwindling resources and higher attendances make it a matter of necessity that inappropriate attenders be treated by general practitioners or equivalent primary care services. In this study, the authors examined the feasibility of methods of reducing inappropriate attendance. The authors investigated patients' ability to accurately assess the urgency of their condition and, hence, their need for A&E services. The authors concluded that there is probably no practical way of reducing inappropriate attendance that does not involve risk to a proportion of patients. The possibility of extending the role of the A&E department to provide more general primary care is discussed.