The short-term clinical outcomes of cataract extraction (within the context of established microsurgical practice) for a sample of all patients undergoing cataract surgery in the United Kingdom in 1990 are presented. Change in best corrected Snellen visual acuity 3 months after surgery and the occurrence of surgically related complications were taken as clinical indicators of outcome. Overall 80% (n = 764) of patients achieved a best corrected postoperative visual acuity of 6/12 or better at 3 months. Surgically related complications occurred in 7% (n = 71) of all patients in the intra-operative period, in 22% (n = 224) in the immediate post-operative period, in 18% (n = 176) at the first post-operative out-patient assessment and in 20% (n = 200) of patients at 3 months after surgery. Co-existing ocular pathology was identified as a risk factor for both poor visual outcome and the occurrence of complications. Increasing severity of ocular pathology was associated with increased risk of poor outcome. These results represent the first national figures for the short-term clinical outcomes of cataract surgery with respect to the current surgical practice in the United Kingdom.