Health care providers, purchasers and policy makers need to make informed decisions regarding the provision of cost-effective care. When a new health care intervention is to be compared with the current standard, an economic evaluation alongside an evaluation of health benefits provides useful information for the decision making process. We consider the information on cost-effectiveness which arises from an individual clinical trial comparing the two interventions. Recent methods for conducting a cost-effectiveness analysis for a clinical trial have focused on the net benefit parameter. The net benefit parameter, a function of costs and health benefits, is positive if the new intervention is cost-effective compared with the standard. In this paper we describe frequentist and Bayesian approaches to cost-effectiveness analysis which have been suggested in the literature and apply them to data from a clinical trial comparing laparoscopic surgery with open mesh surgery for the repair of inguinal hernias. We extend the Bayesian model to allow the total cost to be divided into a number of different components. The advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches are discussed. In January 2001, NICE issued guidance on the type of surgery to be used for inguinal hernia repair. We discuss our example in the light of this information. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.