Considerable variations in procedures, hospital stay and rates of recovery have been recorded within specific surgical procedures at Danish hospitals. The aim of this paper is to report on a national initiative in Denmark to improve the quality of surgical care by implementation of clinical guidelines based on the principles of fast-track surgery-i.e. patient information, surgical stress reduction, effective analgesia, early mobilisation and rapid return to normal eating. Fast-track surgery was introduced systematically in Denmark by the establishment of the Unit of Perioperative Nursing (UPN) in 2004. The unit was responsible for guideline construction and implementation using the 'workshop practice method': establishing a website, creating a knowledge centre, coordinating implementation agents, and arranging national workshops and conferences. The UPN has promoted implementation of fast-track regimes in all surgical departments in Denmark. We recommend the workshop-practice method for implementation of new procedures in other areas of patient care.