Objective To quantify the incidence of severe maternal morbidity in Scotland and determine the feasibility of doing so.
Design Prospective observational study.
Setting All 22 consultant led maternity units in Scotland, between 1 October 2001 and 30 September 2002.
Population Women during pregnancy and the puerperium.
Methods Definitions for 13 categories of severe maternal morbidity were developed from published work. Recruitment of maternity units, and training of staff, took place at a national meeting. Each month, every unit reported cases meeting the agreed definitions, the category of incident and date. Data were collated centrally and analysed to determine the frequency of incidents. The number of maternal deaths occurring in Scotland over the same period was obtained from the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths.
Main outcome measures Number and rate of defined events being reported. A subjective view of the feasibility of collecting national data routinely.
Results Severe morbidity was reported in 196 women, out of 51,165 deliveries in Scotland (rate 3.8 per 1000 deliveries). Thirty percent of cases fell into more than one defined category. Major obstetric haemorrhage accounted for 50% of events. Only a third of identified patients were admitted to intensive care units. Four relevant maternal deaths occurred.
Conclusions Categories of severe maternal morbidity can be defined and may provide a useful measure of the quality of maternity services, particularly in developed countries where maternal mortality is very rare. It appears feasible to set up a national reporting system for maternal morbidity, as well as mortality.