Necrosectomy with postoperative continuous local lavage was performed in a prospective study involving 95 patients with necrotizing pancreatitis. In the same period 567 patients with oedematous-interstitial pancreatitis were treated non-operatively with a hospital mortality rate of 0.7 per cent. In patients with necrotizing pancreatitis the median Ranson criteria score was 4.5 points; operation was required at a median of 7 days after the onset of symptoms because of non-response to conservative treatment. In all, 59 per cent of the patients (56 out of 95) developed extended intrapancreatic parenchymal necrosis, 70 per cent had ascites, and 66 per cent had intra- and extrapancreatic necrosis; 42 per cent of the patients had bacterial infection of the necrotic tissue. For lavage a median of 8 l/24 h of fluid were instilled postoperatively for 25 days (median). The lavage fluid showed high levels of immunoreactive trypsin, phospholipase A2, and endotoxin in the early postoperative period. Hospital mortality rate was 8.4 per cent. Necrosectomy and continuous postoperative lavage can achieve high survival rates in patients with necrotizing pancreatitis. Postoperative local lavage allows the continuous non-operative evacuation of biologically active compounds and devitalized tissue, and avoids damage to remaining vital exocrine and endocrine pancreatic tissue.