Most studies of hospital deaths after head injury have been in patients transferred to neurosurgical units (NSU), but over 90 per cent of hospitalized head-injured patients are not transferred and some of these die. To assess the effectiveness of triage of seriously head-injured patients in Glasgow, we studied 270 patients who died after head injury in any of the six Glasgow general hospitals during 1979-1988 and who were not transferred to the regional NSU. The proportion of fatal cases of head injury who had not been to the NSU fell from 69 per cent in 1971-1975 to 45 per cent in 1979-1988. Most of the untransferred patients were elderly, and most died from irremediable injuries or complications. Although 31 (11 per cent) had a significant intracranial haematoma, only seven of these might have been salvaged by neurosurgical intervention. Seven other patients died from potentially preventable extracranial injuries or complications. These findings suggest that a relatively satisfactory level of triage of seriously head-injured patients has been achieved, by promoting effective communication between neurosurgeons and other specialists, and by a continuous programme of audit and education.