A case-control study was undertaken in an acute district general hospital to identify risk factors for hospital-acquired bacteraemia caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Cases of hospital-acquired MRSA bacteraemia were defined as consecutive patients from whom MRSA was isolated from a blood sample taken on the third or subsequent day after admission. Controls were randomly selected from patients admitted to the hospital over the same time period with a length of stay of more than 2 days who did not have bacteraemia. Data on 42 of the 46 cases of hospital-acquired bacteraemia and 90 of the 92 controls were available for analysis. There were no significant differences in the age or sex of cases and controls. After adjusting for confounding factors, insertion of a central line [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 35·3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3·8–325·5] or urinary catheter (aOR 37·1, 95% CI 7·1–193·2) during the admission, and surgical site infection (aOR 4·3, 95% CI 1·2–14·6) all remained independent risk factors for MRSA bacteraemia. The adjusted population attributable fraction, showed that 51% of hospital-acquired MRSA bacteraemia cases were attributable to a urinary catheter, 39% to a central line, and 16% to a surgical site infection. In the United Kingdom, measures to reduce the incidence of hospital-acquired MRSA bacteraemia in acute general hospitals should focus on improving infection control procedures for the insertion and, most importantly, care of central lines and urinary catheters.