Emergency care for eye complaints is provided both by accident and emergency (A&E) departments as well as by dedicated eye casualty departments. This study examines the role of each type of department and the quality of eye care provided. Significant differences were found between the accident and emergency department and the eye casualty department in the history, examination and management of eye patients. Most notably, there were significant differences in the quality of the assessment in the two institutions. Overall 19% (19/100) of A&E records had an inadequate history, compared with 2% (1/50) for eye casualty records. Fifty-nine per cent (59/100) of A&E records contained a significant examination omission, compared with only 8% (4/50) of eye casualty records. Most of the omissions related to a failure to perform an adequate, yet simple, ocular examination including failure to record visual acuity. In 44% (44-100) of A&E cases visual acuity was not recorded or recorded incorrectly. In comparison acuity omissions in eye casualty were present in only 4% (2/50) of cases.