Between 1980 and 1992, 116 patients had either a simple mastectomy (32) or intra-abdominal procedures (84) under local anaesthesia (0.5-1% lignocaine with 1:200 000 adrenaline). A wide variety of general surgical procedures were feasible using only supplementary intravenous sedation (54%). Complications were uncommon and related to surgical procedure (three incorrect diagnoses, three procedures impossible) rather than the anaesthetic technique. There were no anaesthetic toxicity or postoperative problems. Local anaesthesia is extremely safe and facilitates larger surgical procedures than is generally appreciated.