The overall autopsy rate (excluding coroner's autopsies) at a large teaching district general hospital over a four year period was 16.5%, but individual rates for ten general physicians varied from 5% to 35%. During this period, the mean autopsy rate for general medicine (14%) was significantly lower than rates for cardiology (21%), geriatrics (23%) and paediatrics (36%), but similar to general surgery (13%). Autopsies were widely perceived as being of benefit to education and research, but physicians were often unaware of their value for confirming the diagnosis and for clinical audit, and over-estimated their actual autopsy rates on average by 50%. High rates (18-30%) were associated with consultants who had a definite policy regarding autopsies and had made this clear to their junior staff. Low rates (6-10%) obtained where there was no consultant policy on autopsies, and were frequently attributed by the consultant physicians to failure by their junior staff. Physicians should be more aware of the value of autopsies, and should take responsibility for increasing and monitoring autopsy requests to improve clinical audit, quality assurance and medical education.