Data on all patients scheduled to have elective and emergency surgeries during the period of 6 weeks from September 1999 to October 1999 were prospectively collected to determine scheduled starting times, actual starting times, completion times, causes for delays and cancellations. Of 840 procedures scheduled during the study period, 594 (71%) were available for analysis. Eighty-nine per cent of cancellations occurred in patients undergoing elective surgery. The common causes of cancellations were non-availability of beds in recovery room (RR) (15%), patients not showing up (9%), improper pre-operative patient preparation (13%), unavailability of nurses (11%) and anaesthetists (8%). Twenty-three per cent of the cancellations were day cases. Public patients were cancelled more frequently than private patients. Surgical procedures started on time in only 7% of patients. The most common cause of delay was due to delayed transport of patients to the operating theatre (17%). Optimal utilisation of operating theatres in our situation may be effected by increasing the bed-strength of ICUs to free the RR, proper pre-operative work up, adequate counselling of day-care surgery patients and efficient floor management of the operating theatre.