OBJECTIVE--To evaluate a clinic set up specifically to assess patients with recent onset chest pain, particularly those presenting with a normal resting electrocardiogram. DESIGN--Retrospective review of case notes. SETTING--Cardiac department of a tertiary referral cardiothoracic centre. PATIENTS--250 consecutive patients with recent onset chest pain seen within 24 hours of general practitioner referral. OUTCOME MEASURES--Clinical diagnosis and management. RESULTS--40% of patients were seen within seven days of the onset of symptoms. Twenty seven per cent had non-cardiac symptoms and could be discharged while 60% were considered to have cardiac pain. Sixty six patients (26%) were admitted directly from the clinic and 48 of these underwent coronary angiography within three weeks. Seventy patients (28%) have so far undergone intervention (angioplasty or coronary artery surgery), 22 within one month of presentation. One hundred and nine patients (44%) presented with a normal resting electrocardiogram, 21 of whom were considered to have unstable angina. Forty one of these patients were investigated of whom 37 were found to have significant coronary disease and 26 have undergone intervention. CONCLUSIONS--This experience highlights the inadequacy of a routine electrocardiogram reporting service in patients with recent onset of chest pain. An alternative facility offering immediate and complete cardiac assessment produced patient benefit with early diagnosis and intervention. Investigation of these patients, however, accounted for 5% of cardiac catheterisation laboratory throughput; this was a significant additional and unscheduled workload.