In early 1997, the PHLS Overview of Communicable Diseases (OVCD) Committee carried out a consultation exercise to inform the development of PHLS priorities in communicable diseases for the years 1997 to 1999. The views of PHLS senior staff and scientific committees and consultants in communicable disease control in district health authorities were sought by postal questionnaire, and several organisations of health professionals were asked for their views on the initial findings. The main findings of the exercise are summarised in three areas of priority. Priority 1 diseases--those of major importance to public health--included food poisoning, meningitis, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, hospital acquired infections, and antimicrobial resistance. Priority 2 diseases--those of moderate importance to public health--included respiratory syncytial virus and varicella zoster virus infections and emerging problems such as travel associated infections. Priority 3 diseases included those whose prevalence is declining as a result of public health action, such as listeriosis, and diseases of low prevalence and/or associated morbidity. The exercise identified four areas of possible future work for the PHLS: activities in prion diseases, helping to tackle inequalities in health, taking a more active approach to documenting the socioeconomic burden of disease, and engaging more with those consulted. The PHLS has used the results of the priority setting exercise to guide major programme initiatives in tuberculosis, measles, mumps, and rubella, meningococcal and pneumococcal diseases, and in antibiotic resistance. In addition, they have helped to shape agenda in service delivery and research in hospital acquired infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. This exercise of engaging corporately with key professionals in communicable disease has paved the way for a wider engagement with stakeholders in the setting of future priorities.