National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death guidelines for urgent surgery recommend a fully staffed emergency operating theatre and restriction of 'after-midnight' operating to immediate life-, limb- or organ-threatening conditions. Audit performed in our institution demonstrated significant decreases in waiting times for urgent surgery and an increased seniority of medical care associated with overnight pre-operative assessment of patients by anaesthetic trainees. Nevertheless, urgent cases continued to be delayed unnecessarily. A classification of delays was developed from existing guidelines and their incidence was audited. The results were disseminated to involved directorates. A repeat of the audit demonstrated a significant decrease in delays (p = 0.001), a significant increase in the availability of surgeons (p = 0.001) and a significant decrease in the median waiting time for urgent surgery compared to the first audit cycle and a previous standard (p < 0.01). We conclude that auditing delays and disseminating the results of the audit significantly decreases delays and median waiting times for urgent surgery because of improved surgical availability.