BACKGROUND: The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has advocated open mesh repair for primary hernia but suggested laparoscopic repair may be considered for recurrent hernias. AIM: To establish current surgical practice by surgeons from the South West of England. METHODS: A postal survey was distributed to 121 consultant surgeons and a response rate of 75% was achieved. RESULTS: The majority (86%) of the surgeons surveyed performed hernia repairs, and most (95%) of these used open mesh repair as standard for primary inguinal hernia. Only 8% used laparoscopic repair routinely for primary hernias. Few consultants (only 28%) were able to quote formally audited hernia recurrence rates. A total of 90% of respondents still employed open mesh repair routinely for recurrent hernias; however, if mesh had been used for the primary repair, this figure fell to 55%. Some 7% of respondents recommended laparoscopic repair for recurrent hernia, but this increased to 17% if the primary repair was done with mesh. All laparoscopic surgeons in the South West employed the totally extraperitoneal approach (TEP). There was a range of opinion on the technical demands of repair of a recurrent hernia previously mended with mesh; the commonest cause of mesh failure was thought to be a medial direct recurrence (insufficient mesh medially). CONCLUSIONS: Current surgical practice for primary hernias in the South West England reflects NICE guidelines although many surgeons continue to manage recurrent hernias by further open repair. In this survey, there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that hernia recurrence can be managed effectively by open repair.