AIM: Only half of those patients undergoing major lower limb amputations for peripheral vascular disease (PVD) are likely to mobilise on a prosthesis. This study aimed to determine whether a surgeon's experience influenced the quality of the residual limb and thus the likelihood of the stump being suitable for a prosthesis. METHODS: All patients undergoing major lower limb amputations for PVD were recruited prospectively, between August 1992 and July 1996. Following surgery, patients were categorised, by a consultant in rehabilitation medicine, as potentially suitable (group 1) or unsuitable (group II) for rehabilitation. Patients in group I were further assessed by prosthetists for limb fitting. RESULTS: A total of 217 patients underwent 260 amputations for PVD between 1992 and 1996: transfemoral (TFA) 131, trans-tibial (TTA) 127, and through-knee (TKA) in 2. The 30-day mortality was 12% (n = 27). Following surgery, 109 patients were assigned to group I (51%), and 81 patients to group II (37%). The proportion of junior surgeons performing surgery was similar for patients in both groups. Twenty-three amputation stumps (9%) required revision or conversion to a higher level within 30 days. Revisions or conversions were significantly more frequent where the original operation had been performed by an unsupervised junior surgeon rather than a senior surgeon (P = 0.009). The rate of defective amputations compromising limb fitting also reached significance when unsupervised junior and senior surgeons were compared (P = 0.04). CONCLUSIONS: Rehabilitation of the relatively few amputees who reach the stage of limb fitting is hindered by poor surgical technique in a large proportion of cases. Patients operated on by a more experienced surgeon had a better chance of mobilising without revision or conversion surgery.