The pattern of care and demographic features of diabetes in a largely rural Welsh population were investigated before the introduction of measures to improve diabetic care. All data were obtained from general practice notes. Of the population studied 1.01% were identified as diabetic. There were no demographic differences from recently published English studies. Seventy per cent of the diabetic patients had not seen a consultant within the preceding year. The level of surveillance for biochemical control and complications of diabetes was better in those who had had recent consultant care. However, basic surveillance data was missing in many consultant letters to general practitioners. The prevalence of known serious diabetic eye disease (9%) in the study population was similar to that found in a recent study of a structured care system. Proposed improvements in diabetic care must take into account the large number of patients not attending hospital clinics. Communication between consultant clinics and general practitioners must be improved.