A study of intravenous (i.v.) cannula usage for medical emergencies admitted to hospitals in the Newham Health District was undertaken during two defined periods (24 and 35 days). Almost half the cannulas inserted (47%) were not flushed following an initial bolus injection of heparinized saline. The duration that cannulas remained in a vein ranged from 24 hours to 8 days (median 2 days) and inflammation around the cannula site was related to the length of time since insertion but unrelated to whether the cannula was flushed regularly or to the type of fluid used. Our findings indicate a substantial wastage of i.v. cannulas due to difficulties with insertion and suggest that isotonic saline, without heparin, is effective in maintaining cannula patency for 48 hours. It is concluded that these findings are not unique to the Newham Health District and worthwhile financial savings should be achieved throughout the NHS if clinicians reconsider the indications and use of i.v. cannulas for their patients.