A prospective audit of acute pancreatitis involving nine hospitals in the North-West Thames Region recruited 631 patients over 54 months. There were 57 deaths (9 per cent); a diagnosis had been reached in 50 patients (88 per cent) before death and in seven (12 per cent) at autopsy. Eighteen patients (32 per cent) died within the first week, usually as a result of multisystem organ failure (15 patients). Thirty-nine patients (68 per cent) died after the first week from complications related to infection (26 patients) co-morbid conditions (nine) or non-infective complications (four). Twenty-one patients (42 per cent) had been inadequately evaluated by Ranson's criteria, and only 22 (44 per cent) of 50 with a premortem diagnosis of pancreatitis had undergone computed tomography (CT). Fifteen of 26 patients who died from infection-related complications had CT and only nine underwent necrosectomy or surgical drainage. These data suggest that improved diagnosis, investigation and management of patients with acute pancreatitis is possible, and may result in improved clinical outcome.