One hundred and forty-two consecutive patients with proximal femoral fractures were audited prospectively over a 1-year period. Mobility, age and sex were recorded along with timing of surgery, complications, 'will to live', length of admission, mortality, mobility and housing requirements on discharge. Operative procedures were performed mostly by intermediate surgical staff, on night-time emergency lists shared with other specialties. Patients were treated on a ward with nursing staff levels less than the minimum recommended by professional bodies. Mean hospital stay was 31 days. In-patient mortality was 37 per cent in males and 5 per cent in females. It was possible to predict protracted hospital stay in 84 per cent, mortality in 84 per cent, mobility on discharge in 92 per cent and need for rehousing in 83 per cent of patients. Of the 10 principal variables that affected outcome, four could be influenced by hospital practice. These variables were associated with 1284 hospital bed days, which constituted 30 per cent of total bed occupancy. Fifty-five per cent of these were associated with non-medical delay to surgery, 25 per cent with wound infection or re-operation and 20 per cent with broken pressure areas. There would appear to be the potential to improve outcome in proximal femoral fractures by stabilizing fractures within 24 h, adopting measures additional to antibiotic prophylaxis to reduce infection and ensuring that patients do not develop pressure sores.