Seventy-four patients presenting with a mixed pattern of urinary symptoms were randomly allocated to undergo either inpatient or outpatient continence programs as initial treatment, without prior urodynamic investigation. Both programs consisted of physiotherapy, bladder retraining, fluid normalization, dietary advice and general support and advice. Nine out of 39 in the outpatient group and 8 out of the 35 of the inpatient group failed to complete the study. There was a significant decrease in frequency, nocturia, number of incontinent episodes and visual analog scores for both groups. In addition the outpatients had a significant reduction in loss on pad testing, and a significantly greater improvement in their visual analog score. In each group 63% were cured or improved to the extent that they did not require further treatment. Staff costs per outpatient were half those for an inpatient. We conclude that outpatient conservative treatment as detailed above is a successful first-line treatment of urinary incontinence in women. It is as successful and possibly better than inpatient treatment, and is significantly cheaper.