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The introduction of regional secure units into the NHS was studied as one example of the diffusion of patient care innovations. As well as the general history of secure units events in four Regions were studied in detail for the period from 1974 up to mid-1983. It is concluded that secure units became gradually more acceptable over time as (i) the need for such units was recognized, (ii) the climate of opinion changed in psychiatric hospitals from seeing secure units as a retrograde step, following the acceptance of more open door policies, to seeing secure units as a prestige development which might safeguard the future of a particular hospital, (iii) government loosened the definitions of what secure units should be and how they should operate so that there was more room for different regions to assess their own needs. Regions which were able to move relatively fast on secure unit development were those where there was already a 'product champion' present to promote the ideas, usually a forensic psychiatrist, and where there was also managerial support and designated responsibility for secure unit development at local and regional level. It is concluded that while public reaction was a hindrance it did not slow down secure unit development as much as might have been expected.