Objectives: To compare reasons identified by clinical staff for potential primary care attendances to the ED with those previously identified by patients. Methods: Survey of staff and primary care patients in five ED in New South Wales, Australia using questionnaire based on reasons identified in published studies. Results: Clinicians in the survey identify a broader spectrum of reasons for potential primary care cases presenting to the ED than the patients themselves report. Doctors reported on average 4.1 very important reasons and nurses 4.8 compared with patients 2.4 very important reasons. The main reasons identified by both doctors and nurses were similar and quite different to those identified by patients. Clinicians were more likely to emphasize cost and access issues rather than acuity and complexity issues. There was no difference within the clinician group between doctors and nurses nor by varying levels of experience. Furthermore doctors with significant experience in both primary care and emergency medicine did not differ from the overall clinicians' pattern. Conclusions: These data confirm that clinician perspectives on reasons for potential primary care patients' use of ED differ quite markedly from the perspectives of patients themselves. Those differences do not necessarily represent a punitive or blaming philosophy but will stem from the very different paradigms from which the two protagonists approach the interactions, reflecting the standard tension in a provider - consumer relationship. If policy is to be developed to improve system use and access, it must take both perspectives into account with respect to redesign, expectations and education.