During the last 30 years community psychiatric nursing (CPN) services have become an established feature of mental health provision throughout the United Kingdom. The creation of new services peaked in the mid 1970s; however, the rate of individual service growth during the last 5 years has been variable. In 1980, the first national survey of community psychiatric nurses was carried out; 5 years later, in 1985, the survey was repeated by the author. A comparative analysis of the manpower data reveals interesting regional differences and these findings are presented. Using quantitative methods, five district health authorities were identified as extreme examples of variability in CPN team growth. The CPN service managers in these five health authorities were interviewed in depth using a semi-structured interview guide. The data produced help to illuminate factors that are involved in the widely differing rates of growth in CPN teams.