Randomised controlled trials are applied more readily to medical than surgical interventions. There are even more barriers to randomised trials of surgical interventions than to other randomised trials. These include reluctance among surgeons to undertake trials (owing to concern over expressing equipoise, surgical training and surgical learning curve issues, restrictions of funding and time for research, even financial conflict of interest), reluctance of patients to participate in surgical trials owing to fears over ‘experimental surgery’, failure of randomised trials to detect rare surgical complications and the almost universal failure of those conducting surgical trials to examine important long-term outcomes. Rapid advances in surgical fields mean that new surgical techniques are rapidly superseded and clinical questions surrounding new techniques may linger only until the next new technique becomes available. Nonetheless randomised controlled trials remain the cornerstone of evaluating the effectiveness of surgical interventions. Genuine progress has been made in this field. However, large multicentre collaborative randomised trials that have been prospectively defined in trial registries will be required in the future to answer the important clinical questions regarding gynaecological surgical interventions.