Developing more of a local public health focus, and involving local communities in Great Britain in health care decision-making, are key aspects of the radically changing face of primary care. Community-oriented primary care (COPC) is an international model for innovative primary health care delivery historically applied in developing or deprived communities, but increasingly seen as having broader relevance for a wider range of primary care settings. COPC has a long history of development in deprived communities, it is still however seen as innovative. It fits the current requirements of clinical governance and the ‘Modern and Dependable NHS’, but does its long history also provide information about it's pitfalls? COPC is promoted as an approach that is applicable to community mental health problems, community psychologists can provide the expertise to facilitate addressing community mental health in COPC programmes. This paper describes the COPC model and highlights the relevance of the COPC philosophy and the problems of its implementation for community psychologists in primary care. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.