BACKGROUND: 'Hospital At Home' schemes are set to increase in the United Kingdom (UK) in response to the NHS Plan. To date, little detailed work has been done on the acceptability of these schemes to patients and their carers. AIM: To compare Hospital at Home patient and carer satisfaction with hospital care. DESIGN OF STUDY: Pragmatic randomised controlled trial. SETTING: Consecutive patients assessed as suitablefor the Leicester Hospital at Home scheme were randomised to Hospital at Home or one of three acute hospitals in the city. METHOD: Patient satisfaction was assessed two weeks after randomisation, or at discharge if later using a six-item questionnaire. Patients' and carers' views of the services were assessed by semistructured interviews. RESULTS: One hundred and two patients were randomised to Hospital at Home and 97 to hospital. Forty-eight (47%) patients in the Hospital at Home arm and 35 (36%) in the hospital arm completed the satisfaction questionnaire, representing 96% and 85% of those eligible, respectively. Total scores were significantly higher in the Hospital at Home (median = 15) than in the hospital group (median = 12). (P<0.001, Mann-Whitney U-test.) Responses to all six questions favoured Hospital at Home, with all but one of these differences being statistically significant. In the Hospital at Homegroup, 24 patients and 18 of their carers were interviewed; in the hospital group 18 patients and seven of their carers were interviewed. Themes emerging from these interviews were that patients appreciated the more personal care and better communication offered by Hospital at Home and placed great value on staying at home, which was seen to be therapeutic. Patients largely felt safe in Hospital at Home, although some would have felt safer in hospital. Some patients and carers felt that better medical care would have been provided in hospital. Carers felt that the workload imposed by Hospital at Home was no greater than by hospital admission and that the relief from care duties at home would be counterbalanced by the added strain of hospital visiting. CONCLUSIONS: Patient satisfaction was greater with Hospital at Home than with hospital. Reasons included a more personal style of care and a feeling that staying at home was therapeutic. Carers did not feel that Hospital at Home imposed an extra workload.