Routine primary care data provide the means to monitor a variety of syndromes which could give early warning of health protection issues. In the United Kingdom, a national syndromic surveillance system, operated jointly by the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and NHS Direct (a national telephone health helpline), examines symptoms reported to NHS Direct. The aim of the system is to identify an increase in syndromes indicative of common infections and diseases, or the early stages of illness caused by the deliberate release of a biological or chemical agent. Data relating to 11 key symptoms/syndromes are received electronically from all 22 NHS Direct call centres covering England and Wales and analysed by the HPA on a daily basis. Statistically significant excesses in calls are automatically highlighted and assessed by a multi-disciplinary team. Although the surveillance system has characterised many sudden rises in syndromes reported to NHS Direct, no evidence of a biological or chemical attack has been detected. Benefits of this work, however, are early warning and tracking of rises in community morbidity (e.g. influenza-like illness, heatstroke); providing reassurance during times of perceived high risk (e.g. after the 7 July 2005 London bombs and December 2005 Buncefield oil depot fire); and timely surveillance data for influenza pandemic planning and epidemic modeling.