OBJECTIVE : Ubiquitous bed shortages lead to delays in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions worldwide. Assessing the impact of delayed admission must account for illness severity. This study examined both the relationship between triage-to-admission time and 28-day mortality and the impact of controlling for Simplified Acute Physiology Score (SAPS) II scores on that relationship. METHODS : Prospective cross-sectional analysis of referrals to eleven ICUs in seven European countries between 2003 and 2005. Outcomes among patients admitted within versus after 4 h were compared using a Chi-square test. Triage-to-admission time was also analyzed as a continuous variable; outcomes were assessed using a non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis test. RESULTS : Among 3175 patients analyzed, triage-to-admission time was 2.1 ± 3.9 h. Patients admitted within 4 h had higher SAPS II scores (33.6 versus 30.6, Pearson correlation coefficient -0.07, p < 0.0001). 28-day mortality was surprisingly higher among patients admitted earlier (29.6 vs 25.2%, OR 1.25, 95% CI 0.99-1.58, p = 0.06). Even after adjusting for SAPS II scores, delayed admission was not associated with higher mortality (OR 1.08, CI 0.83-1.41, p = 0.58). CONCLUSIONS : Even after accounting for quantifiable parameters of illness severity, delayed admission did not negatively impact outcome. Triage practices likely influence outcomes. Severity scores may not fully reflect illness acuity or trajectory.