Non-attendance in general practice is increasing. In contrast to hospital non-attendance little research has been undertaken on the topic. The aim of this study was to identify the characteristics of non-attending patients and to determine the reasons for general practice non-attendance, so that strategies to reduce it could be devised. Four hundred and ninety-three consecutive non-attenders from five practices in Exeter, Devon were studied. A questionnaire was sent enquiring about the reasons behind the patient's non-attendance and possible strategies to reduce future non-attendances. Of 17 264 appointments 493 (3.9%) were not attended. Females accounted for 278 (56.4%) of the non-attenders. The highest number of non-attenders was in the age group 25–44 years. One hundred and seventy-four (35%) responded to the questionnaire, of whom 60 (35% of responders) had forgotten the appointment. Strategies to reduce general practice non-attendance should focus on assisting the patient to remember the appointment.