AIM: Acute surgical patients are admitted to our regional hospital through the emergency department (ED) and through a new surgical assessment unit (SAU). The aim of this study was to compare the efficiency of the two units in seeing and assessing acute surgical patients, as well as patients' satisfaction with their experiences in both units.METHODS: A patient satisfaction scoring questionnaire was distributed to 115 consecutive surgical patients attending the SAU and ED over an 8-week period. Patients' impressions of waiting times, pain management and interactions with staff were detailed. The actual times taken for assessment, admission and discharge were recorded and compared with those perceived by the patients.RESULTS: Patients' perceptions of care were very high within both the ED and the SAU, with 95 % of SAU patients reporting their care as excellent or very good compared with 86 % of ED patients (p = 0.014). Patients were assessed considerably faster in the SAU compared with the ED, with an average wait from registration to admission or discharge totalling 5 h in the SAU compared with 12 h in the ED.CONCLUSION: The SAU provides an effective and efficient mode of assessment of acute surgical patients. While patients were discharged faster from the SAU than the ED, patients rated both units highly in terms of satisfaction with the service provided.