BACKGROUND: Violence involving the use of firearms has increased in the UK over the past decade. This study assesses the implications of such injuries for service provision and training by reviewing the experience at one hospital. METHODS: Accident and emergency triage data were searched for patients presenting with gunshot wounds over a 54-month period. Case notes were reviewed and patterns of care established. The resources required for clinical management were ascertained, and the financial consequences determined at contemporary full cost. RESULTS: There were 187 attendances with 247 wounds. Mean age was 21 years (range, 8-63 years). Of the attendances, 69% were out of normal working hours. Of the 187 cases, 97 patients were admitted to one hospital (83 of whom required surgery) and 10 patients were transferred to other hospitals (6 for plastic surgery not available at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and 4 due to lack of beds). Of the 80 patients who were not admitted, 4 died in accident and emergency, the rest were either air gun wounds or relatively simple higher calibre injuries. A wide range of surgical specialties was involved (limb injury, 53; thoraco-abdominal and vascular, 28; head and neck, 5; and orbit, 2), and combinations of injuries transgressed specialty and sub-specialty boundaries. The total cost of patient care was pound 267,000. CONCLUSIONS: Gunshot wounds present a heavy demand on the clinical and financial resources of the receiving hospital, and surgeons responsible for unselected acute admissions in "general surgery" should be capable of dealing with these indiscriminate injuries. Current training and service trends towards increasing sub-specialisation may mitigate against them achieving or retaining this capability.