We describe a nurse-led pre-assessment system at an elective surgical centre. A targeted referral system was used by trained nurses to direct referrals to a supervising consultant anaesthetist or to the surgical team. Of 2726 patients pre-assessed in the first 2 years, 105 patients (3.9%) were cancelled or postponed for medical optimisation after pre-assessment. There were 137 cancellations (5.0%) on the day of surgery, despite pre-assessment, but only 36 were for anaesthetic or medical reasons. Only eight of these 36 were considered a ‘failure’ of the pre-assessment system. These results are much better than the cancellation rate of about 11% in the Trust as a whole. There were 18 transfers of patients postoperatively from the elective centre to another hospital. A review suggested that four of these transfers could have been reasonably predictable from the patients' medical history. We conclude that a pre-assessment clinic has an important role to play in minimizing cancellations on the day of surgery and also in reducing the number of patients transferred to other hospitals. This last conclusion has an important implication for the planning of systems in hospitals that perform only elective surgery.