We describe a prospective two year study aimed at assessing information collected throughout a geographically defined region as a basis for clinical governance, quality improvement and service planning in neonatal intensive and special care. All 13 Northern Ireland units returned a range of socio-demographic, obstetric and neonatal data for all admissions or readmissions within 28 days of life. 8.2% of all live births required neonatal intensive or special care, with a requirement of 374 and 645 days per 1,000 births for intensive and special care respectively. In total there were 4,205 episodes of care provided for 3,946 infants (18,072 days of intensive and 31,141 days of special care). Complications arising during intensive care episodes included the following: septicaemia/bacteraemia (7.6%), necrotising enterocolitis (2.8%), pneumothorax (4.6%), patent ductus arteriosus (6.5%) and seizures (6.9%). Opportunities for quality improvement exist in a number of areas with potential for further reduction in morbidity. Comparisons with published criteria demonstrate the value of this type of information for local, regional and national quality improvement initiatives and service planning.