AIMS--To survey methods for cost control of out-of-hours laboratory services in district general hospitals in England and Wales. METHODS--A questionnaire was distributed to 66 district general hospital laboratories in England and Wales. RESULTS--The response rate was 61%. Most laboratories for which budgetary information was provided had on-call costs ranging between 10-21% of staff costs. Ninety five per cent of respondents had attempted to reduce workload by the use of various strategies. Seventy two per cent of responding laboratories had negotiated a wide variety of on-call agreements outside Whitley Council arrangements. Seventy two per cent were not satisfied with their on-call arrangements, the main desired objective being the introduction of the extended working day. CONCLUSIONS--From this study it seems that Whitley Council agreements for out-of-hours work are no longer appropriate for the average district general hospital laboratory. Workload reduction strategies should include the use of a limited list, audit of the use of the on-call service, and continued education of medical staff. Consideration may also be given to the introduction of fixed payments, extension of the working day, increased multidisciplinary on-call and increased bedside testing.