The recently published national guidelines to general practitioners for the referral of patients with breast problems were retrospectively applied to letters of all patients attending the Rapid Access Breast Clinic at the University Hospital of Wales. The patients have all had diagnostic investigations performed at the initial visit with a multidisciplinary review of results and provision of a management plan prior to the subsequent visit. Since its inception in May 1995 until the end of the year when the guidelines were published, 2332 new patients had been seen. Overall, 29% of patients with benign breast disease would not have been referred if the guidelines had been strictly followed. Of the 147 symptomatic carcinomas diagnosed from general practitioner referrals (6.3% of total referrals), no invasive cancers would have been missed. One patient with incidental detection of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the asymptomatic contralateral breast would not have been referred. Referral for pain without a discrete lump constituted 63% of the patients with a benign diagnosis who fell outside the guidelines. The guidelines also include comprehensive algorithms for the initial management of benign breast symptoms that do not require immediate referral by the general practitioners. Our general practitioners were significantly better at referring patients over 50 years old but the proportion of appropriate referrals were not related to the number referred by each practice. The present guidelines adequately cover referral for the diagnosis of malignant breast disease to a specialist, and may reduce the benign workload of breast clinics.