Meeting needs is the aim of health care frequently espoused in textbooks, policy documents and reports of research studies; provision of health care is also now described as‘needs-based’, rather than ‘service-based’. The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of need, using concept analysis, with the aim of providing greater clarity. Two approaches to concept analysis are compared: the linear model proposed by Walker and Avant and Rodgers’cyclical model. On both a philosophical and practical level, Rodgers’model was felt to be more appropriate for analysis of the concept of need. The rigid divisions which the Walker and Avant model seeks to establish (particularly in relation to the construction of additional cases) were felt to restrict, rather than clarify the concept. The attributes, antecedents, consequences and references of need are described, following stratified random sampling of the available literature, and a model case is presented. The themes of priority and perception of need arose consistently within the literature, highlighting the value-laden nature of the concept and the importance of achieving a common understanding to enable purchasers, providers and consumers to better satisfy health care needs.