Uncertainties exist regarding the population risks of hospitalization due to pandemic influenza A(H1N1). Understanding these risks is important for patients, clinicians and policy makers. This study aimed to clarify these uncertainties. A national surveillance system was established for patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed pandemic influenza A(H1N1) in England. Information was captured on demographics, pre-existing conditions, treatment and outcomes. The relative risks of hospitalization associated with pre-existing conditions were estimated by combining the captured data with population prevalence estimates. A total of 2416 hospitalizations were reported up to 6 January 2010. Within the population, 4·7 people/100 000 were hospitalized with pandemic influenza A(H1N1). The estimated hospitalization rate of cases showed a U-shaped distribution with age. Chronic kidney disease, chronic neurological disease, chronic respiratory disease and immunosuppression were each associated with a 10- to 20-fold increased risk of hospitalization. Patients who received antiviral medication within 48 h of symptom onset were less likely to be admitted to critical care than those who received them after this time (adjusted odds ratio 0·64, 95% confidence interval 0·44–0·94, P=0·024). In England the risk of hospitalization with pandemic influenza A(H1N1) has been concentrated in the young and those with pre-existing conditions. By quantifying these risks, this study will prove useful in planning for the next winter in the northern and southern hemispheres, and for future pandemics.