The purpose of the study was to investigate the characteristics and outcomes of in-hospital cardiac arrests that occurred outside of the hospital critical care areas. A prospective register of adult in-hospital cardiac arrests occurring in non-critical care areas of Christchurch Hospital, Christchurch, New Zealand, from January 2001 to December 2004 was compiled. Two-hundred-and-forty-three cardiac arrests were recorded in this period. The overall return of spontaneous circulation was 38.7% (CI 32.6, 44.8) and survival to discharge was 21.0% (CI 15.9, 26.1). Comparison of clinical areas showed that the percentage with successful resuscitation and the percentage with survival to discharge were highest in the cardiology wards (52.2%, 41.3%) and lowest in the medical wards (24.9%, 8.8%). After taking account of rhythm, age, gender and time of day, differences between clinical areas were slightly reduced. Cardiology wards, however, still had a higher resuscitation percentage than medical wards (P = 0.03) and a higher percentage with survival to discharge than all other areas (P = 0.005 overall, P < or = 0.05 for each individual comparison). Reporting of hospital-wide survival rates does not accurately reflect the survival rates in a variety of specific clinical areas. The analysis of outcomes across different clinical areas at Christchurch Hospital revealed differences in outcomes and therefore the clinical experience of staff in those areas. These differences have implications for the resuscitation training of health professionals. The further development of national resuscitation registries may allow more specific analysis of outcomes in different clinical areas.