While there has been recent support for high-dependency unit development, there are few data reporting the impact of such development on existing critical care facilities. Therefore the aim of this study was to examine the workload and capacity constraints of an adult general intensive care unit before and after the development of an adjacent high-dependency unit. Following the opening of the high-dependency unit, the total number of patients admitted increased by 49%. On the high-dependency unit, more elderly patients were admitted for longer and more frequently following midweek elective surgery. On the intensive care unit, patients' initial severity of illness was lower and their duration of admission decreased; fewer patients were admitted directly from the general wards. The financial benefits of high dependency care may be eroded by the increased use of the critical care services.