Gathering evidence from animal experiments, an editorial in this journal and published human case reports culminated in the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland recommending in August 2007 that lipid emulsion be immediately available to all patients given potentially cardiotoxic doses of local anaesthetic drugs. This development offered an opportunity to track the adoption of an innovation by anaesthetists in the UK and to gauge the effects of guidelines. Two surveys, each of 66 NHS hospitals delivering acute care within London and its penumbra, examined the adoption of lipid emulsion therapy. After the publication of the editorial in autumn 2006, the spread of ‘lipid rescue’ was rapid. The timing of the adoption and the impetus for innovation varied substantially between the sampled hospitals. When the formal guidelines were published, approximately half of the hospitals surveyed did not have lipid rescue. Of those that subsequently adopted it, half attributed their decision to the guidelines. At the end of 2007, there remained a small number of hospitals that had yet to adopt lipid rescue. Lipid rescue’s adoption by anaesthetists in the UK offers a rare example of swift uptake of an innovation. National guidelines accelerated the adoption of innovation by some hospitals.