In a retrospective, case-note based, audit of the initial management of spontaneous pneumothoraces in a large teaching hospital, 38 events were identified in 37 patients admitted over 12 months to the end of September 1991. The initial management was intercostal tube drainage in 21 (55%), decided upon by middle grade staff, with a cost in terms of the duration of hospitalisation (median 7 (range 2-18) days), chest radiography (6 (3-10) films) and potential for complications including infections (3 wound, 2 chest). Aspiration was performed in only three cases, the remainder were managed by observation. We suggest that undue reliance is placed upon intercostal tube drainage to treat spontaneous pneumothoraces with aspiration alone performed too infrequently. Moreover, other deficiencies in management including the practise of drain clamping and incomplete follow-up were identified.