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The patterns, management and outcome of non-fatal orthopaedic injury in childhood was audited over a 1 year period in Southampton. A computer-based audit (1 September 1993 to 31 August 1994) was conducted of all children aged under 15 years who were admitted to the orthopaedic unit after accidental injury. Management was audited by studying the primary conservative and operative treatment methods employed. Treatment outcome was evaluated in terms of need for secondary operative treatment, salvage internal fixation, length of hospital stay and unplanned readmission. In all, 398 children, representing 50/10,000 of the local paediatric population, were admitted with a traumatic injury. There was a significant (P < 0.001, Kolmogorov-Smirnov) seasonal variation in admission rate. There were 87.3% admissions required for fractures, 8.5% after soft tissue injury and 2.2% after joint injury. The following areas were identified where management and outcome could be improved: 1 A 12.1% readmission rate (47/346) in children with fractures owing to a 16% incidence of loss of position after closed reduction of distal radial, forearm shaft and distal humeral fractures. 2 In all, 24% of internal fixation procedures were performed as 'salvage' after failure of conservative treatment, entailing either reoperation during the initial admission or a further unplanned readmission. 3 A prolonged inpatient stay for patients with femoral fractures owing to a wide variation in treatment method. The outcome of non-fatal orthopaedic injury can be improved through the selective use of primary internal fixation of distal radial and humeral fractures and the close adherence to a management algorithm in femoral fractures. There may be a role for more specialised supervision of primary treatment of these particular fractures.