There can be very few nurses, at the moment, whose daily activity is not in some way influenced by the notion of audit and related concepts. Yet despite an impressive growth in the literature relating to audit, conceptual clarity on a number of key issues remains elusive. This paper suggests that there are major tensions inherent in much of the current thinking about audit. In outlining the arguments supporting our position, we term these tensions primary and secondary. The potential effects of ignoring such tensions are illustrated by reference to the development of day hospital care for older people in the United Kingdom. This is used to highlight a number of paradoxical expectations and deleterious consequences for day hospital services which have arisen from a failure adequately to address a number of fundamental questions. The lessons to be drawn are then applied to audit in general, with particular reference to services for individuals with on-going health care needs.