Obstetric early warning systems to prevent bad outcome

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Purpose of review

Early warning scores, early warning systems and rapid response systems, were established in 1999. In the UK, a National Early Warning Score was launched in 2013 and is now used throughout the National Health Service. In 2007, a firm recommendation was made by the maternal confidential death enquiry that maternity units should incorporate a modified early obstetric warning score chart into clinical practice. Although there was enthusiastic uptake of this recommendation, local recording systems vary throughout the country and there is now a need to revisit revise and standardize an obstetric early warning system (ObsEWS).

Recent project

The intercollegiate Maternal Critical Care group of the Obstetric Anaesthetists’ Association have produced an ObsEWS in line with the aggregate UK National Early Warning Score. Six physiological parameters are incorporated: respiratory rate, oxygen saturations, temperature, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and pulse rate. However, robust physiological thresholds for the measured parameters are currently lacking but required for a more sensitive and specific ObsEWS.


A greater focus and study on the management of maternal morbidity (in addition to mortality data) and the development of better systems within and across the multidisciplinary team to detect early deterioration should improve management of serious illness in obstetrics. It is imperative that we undertake robust ObsEWS and data collection, including electronic systems with research and evidence-based recommendations to underpin this system. This should improve patient safety and result in more efficient, cost-effective management of sicker patients in our complex modern healthcare systems.

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