A recent report by the National Audit Office found that only 50% to 60% of weekday operating time was being used. This report was examined by the Committee of Public Accounts and much of the blame for underutilization of operating theatres was attributed to poor working practices among surgeons. We investigated theatre utilization in our hospital and found underutilization on the same scale as the National Audit Office. Twenty-five per cent of theatre sessions were not allocated for use, 23% of general surgical lists were cancelled and, of the lists which did take place, a further 23% of theatre time was not utilized. The single largest cause of underutilization was understaffing. To increase theatre utilization higher levels of staffing and expenditure are needed rather than changes in the working practices of surgeons.