OBJECTIVES The objectives of the study were to assess the suitability of a service for provision of emergency hormonal contraception by nurses. METHODS Retrospective analysis was carried out of data obtained from the case records of 500 consecutive women who attended ABACUS (a city center-based family planning clinic in Liverpool, UK) for emergency contraception during the 7th and 9th months of the first year (1994) of the service. Similar data were collected for 100 consecutive women during 1 month of the third year (June 1996). The number of women who received emergency hormonal contraception was noted. In particular, details pertaining to the reasons for referral to the doctor and the trend of referrals were noted. RESULTS The results indicate that during the first year the nurses independently issued emergency hormonal contraception to 37% of the women. They referred the remaining 63% to the medical staff. One-third of referrals were for ongoing contraception, especially oral contraception. Another third of referrals appeared to be due to 'nurse anxiety', as no medical or other cause was found for these referrals. During the third year, nurses dispensed emergency hormonal contraception to 64% of women. Among the remaining 36% of women who were referred to the doctor, 19% needed hormonal contraception. Referral reflecting 'nurse anxiety' significantly declined (1%) compared to the first year of service. CONCLUSIONS Ongoing contraception, particularly initiation of oral contraception, was one of the main reasons for referral during the first year. Referral due to 'nurse anxiety' significantly declined with continued experience and may have reflected initial anxiety and the learning curve. With increased experience over the first 2 years, the outcome of this service showed encouraging improvement. The nurses now dispense emergency hormonal contraception to a majority of women.