This prospective observational study investigated the effect of focused transthoracic echocardiography in 99 patients who had suspected cardiac disease or were ≥ 65 years old, and were scheduled for emergency non-cardiac surgery. The treating anaesthetist completed a diagnosis and management plan before and after transthoracic echocardiography, which was performed by an independent operator. Clinical examination rated cardiac disease present in 75%; the remainder were asymptomatic. The cardiac diagnosis was changed in 67% and the management plan in 44% of patients after echocardiography. Cardiac disease was identified by echocardiography in 64% of patients, which led to a step-up of treatment in 36% (4% delay for cardiology referral, 2% altered surgery, 4% intensive care and 26% intra-operative haemodynamic management changes). Absence of cardiac disease in 36% resulted in a step-down of treatment in 8% (no referral 3%, intensive care 1% or haemodynamic treatment 4%). Pre-operative focused transthoracic echocardiography in patients admitted for emergency surgery and with known cardiac disease or suspected to be at risk of cardiac disease frequently alters diagnosis and management.