Documents covering nursing procedures form part of the District Health Authorities policies in the United Kingdom. How far such written documents contribute to standards of care has not been established. As part of a wider investigation, a postal survey of all District Health Authorities in England and Wales was undertaken to examine the content of procedures for catheter care. Eighty-two per cent of Authorities responded and it was found that the documents consisted largely of a detailed list of steps to be followed. There was no complete coverage of all components of care and there were gaps in information concerned with patient safety. In discussion it is suggested that procedures reflect technical performance rather than guidelines for good practice. In the light of this analysis it is argued that the profession should reconsider the place of such documents within the Health Authorities' quality assurance programme.