Perth, in Western Australia, has three major palliative care services: a home care service, a freestanding hospice and a purpose-built palliative care unit in a teaching hospital. A retrospective study of patients referred to these services over a six-month period was carried out to find how they were used. The records of 176 clients were compared, which showed that there were some differences between the client groups referred to each of the services. Those referred to the inpatient services were older (F = 0.0031), less likely to have a carer available (chi 2 = 18.62, p < 0.5) and needed more nursing care. Lung cancer accounted for more male admissions (29%) to all services, while breast and lung cancer were more common among women, with a mixed pattern of referral. Lack of private insurance did not seem to influence the choice of service. Overall the clients of the inpatient services were older, had more nursing needs and were less likely to have someone to care for them, characteristics which health services facing an ageing population need to consider.