Background  Knowledge of the prevalence and incidence of skin conditions is a prerequisite for designing clinical services and providing appropriate training for primary health care professionals. In the U.K. the general practitioner and practice nurse are the first point of medical contact for persons with skin conditions.

Objectives  We aimed to obtain contemporary data in age-, gender- and diagnosis-specific detail on persons presenting to primary care with skin problems. Comparisons were made with similar data for other major disease groups and with similar data from other recent years.

Methods  We used surveillance data collected in the Weekly Returns Service (WRS) of the Royal College of General Practitioners during 2006 and trend data for subsequent years. The WRS sentinel practices monitor all consultations by clinical diagnosis in a representative population of 950 000 in England and Wales.

Results  For conditions included in chapter XII of the International Classification of Diseases Ninth Revision (ICD9), 15% of the population consulted; a further 9% presented with skin problems classified elsewhere in the ICD9, making a total of 24%. There was no evidence of increasing or decreasing trend since 2006. Skin infections were the commonest diagnostic group, while 20% of children < 12 months were diagnosed with atopic eczema. Considered collectively, the incidence of new episodes of skin disorders (including diagnoses outside chapter XII) exceeded incidences for all other major disease groupings.

Conclusions  Compared with other major disease groups, skin conditions are the most frequent reason for consultation in general practice. This result emphasizes the need for appropriate education and training for all medical students and particularly for continuing education in dermatology for all primary health care professionals.