Delay in operating on trauma patients leads to increased morbidity, mortality, length of hospital stay and overall cost. The urgency of operative intervention depends on the injury sustained. There are no published guidelines on what constitutes a reasonable delay between admission and operation. As part of the clinical governance in our unit, an audit was undertaken to examine the structure and process of trauma operating. Patients were allocated to groups defined by the Bath Orthopaedic Department, according to urgency of need for surgery. Group A: patients (for example, open fractures and dislocations) should have definitive treatment within 6 h of admission. Group B: patients (for example, hip fractures, long bone injuries and ankle fractures) should have operations on the day that they are presented to the consultant trauma meeting, or on the day that they are declared fit/ready for theatre. Group C: patients (for example, tendon injuries, simple hand fractures) should have operations within 5 days of presentation to the trauma meeting. Over 3 months, there were 401 acute orthopaedic admissions requiring surgery (61 group A, 277 group B, 63 group C). 78% of group A patients, 58% of group B patients and 86% of group C patients were operated on within the target times. In total, 137 out of 401 operations (34%) missed the targets set. 119 of these (87%) were delayed due to lack of available operating time. This was despite the fact that 59 operations (15% of total) were done on lists normally used for elective operating. Most of the other delays were due to the need for an appropriately experienced surgeon to be available. If these targets are to be achieved for the majority of patients, the trauma theatre must become more efficient, or more flexible time must be made available during evenings or weekends to clear the backlog of trauma operations.