A point prevalence survey of 381 paediatric medical inpatients in the 11 public hospitals in Cape Town in November 2008 showed that 70% of them were in central hospitals, with 39.4% requiring level 3 (sub-specialist) care. Numbers of children in hospital and their levels of health care requirement did not vary by sub-district of residence. Seventy-seven per cent of patients were under 5 years of age; 5% were teenagers. Few patients changed level of care during admission, but 10% did not need to be in hospital at the time of review. Median length of stay was 4 days, with children with level 3 needs having the longest lengths of stay. An under-provision of level 1 beds was demonstrated. HIV infection had been identified in 12% of admissions. While children with level 3 problems were well catered for in terms of bed provision, level 1 and step-down/home care provision were deficient or inefficiently utilised.