The present study identified, within psychiatric, medical and surgical care, patient and staff perceptions of the occurrence and importance of caring behaviours. A Swedish version of the 'CARE-Q' instrument, including 50 caring behaviours, was used for the assessment of importance, and the 'CARE-How often' questionnaire (containing the same behaviours) was used for the determination of occurrence. In psychiatric and medical care, but not in surgical care, staff considered several behaviours to occur more frequently than did patients. However, in each type of care, the groups agreed fairly well with respect to rankings of behaviours. 'Explains and facilitates' occurred rarely, and 'Monitors and follows through' occurred often, according to both patients and staff. Overall, patients and staff differed both with regard to perceived levels and rankings of the importance of behaviours. Psychiatric patients perceived 'Explains and facilitates' as most important, and somatic patients perceived 'Monitors and follows through' as most important, while staff in both somatic and psychiatric care considered 'Comforts' as the most important subscale. Neither patient nor staff perceptions of the occurrence of caring behaviours were well matched with their perceptions of the importance of these. Implications for nursing practice and for studying patient satisfaction with care are given.