Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is a valuable diagnostic tool, but for an endoscopy service to be effective it is essential that it is not overloaded with inappropriately referred patients. A joint working party in Britain has considered the available literature on indications for endoscopy, assessed standard practice through a questionnaire, and audited randomly selected cases using an independent panel of experts and an American database system. They used these data to produce guidelines on the appropriate and inappropriate indications for referral for endoscopy, although they emphasise that under certain circumstances there may be reasons to deviate from the advice given. The need for endoscopy is most difficult to judge in patients with dyspepsia, and this aspect is discussed in detail. Early endoscopy will often prove more cost effective than delaying until the indications are clearer.