The number of acute medical admissions to hospital continues to rise although not all need a prolonged stay. At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, a short-stay unit (SSU) was developed specifically for such patients. Admissions to SSU over the first three weeks of 2006 were assessed. A total of 209 patients were admitted to SSU (10 patients a day). This accounted for 35% of all admissions through the medical assessment unit (MAU). Of these, 149 (71%) went home within 48 hours and a further 14 (7%) went home from SSU within 72 hours. The mean length of stay was 33 hours and the overall length of stay across the MAU (4.6 days) was significantly lower than the corresponding period a year earlier (5.5 days) (p = 0.02). The mean daily number of medical patients staying on non-medical wards was also lower during the study period than in 2005 (11 v 38; p = 0.015). Readmission rates and percentage bed occupancy did not change. This paper shows that the introduction of an SSU helps to identify and treat those patients with more minor illness who can often be discharged home at an earlier stage.