Aims. This paper reports a literature review exploring the relationship between quality of care and selected organizational variables through a consideration of what is meant by perceptions of quality, whose perceptions are accorded prominence, and whether changes in staffing, skill mix and autonomy affect perceptions of quality.Background. Three basic ideas underpin this literature review: the growing focus on quality improvement in health care, concerns about the quality of care, and the move towards patient involvement and consultation. Of particular interest is the way in which changes in nurse staffing, skill mix and autonomy may affect the delivery of quality patient care.Methods. A search was conducted using the CINAHL, Medline and Embase databases. Key words used were quality of health care; quality of nursing care; nurse; patient; skill mix; nurse–patient ratio; outcomes; adverse health care events and autonomy. The objective was to draw together a diverse collection of literature related to the field of health care quality. Papers were included for their relevance to the field of enquiry. The original search was conducted in 2003 and updated in 2004.Findings. Quality of care is a complex, multi-dimensional concept which presents researchers with a challenge when attempting to evaluate it. Traditional nursing assessment tools have fallen out of use, partly because they have failed to provide opportunities to engage with and access the views of patients or nurses. There is also evidence that patient satisfaction as an indicator of quality is compromised on a number of fronts. There is conflicting information on how nurses and patients think about quality. Research looking at the relationship between the selected organizational variables and perceptions of quality also suffers from a number of limitations. We argue that there is a requirement for more patient-centred research exploring perceptions of quality and differences in nurse staffing, skill mix and autonomy.