The intrapartum cardiotocographs (CTGs) of 38 severely asphyxiated, term infants, born during a 17-month period, and those of 120 healthy term infants acting as controls were independently reviewed by three investigators who were unaware of the clinical outcome. Inter-observer agreement was good (Kappa statistic = 0.74, P less than 0.0001). The investigators found that cardiotocographic abnormalities were present in 33 of the asphyxiated infants (87%) and in 35 of the controls (29%) and predicted that the abnormalities were severe enough to lead to significant fetal metabolic acidosis at delivery in 23 asphyxiated infants (61%) and in 11 controls (9%). The differences between the two groups were highly significant (P less than 0.001). Using the traditional diagnostic criteria for fetal distress, the investigators found that fetal blood sampling was indicated in 58% of cases in the asphyxia group and in 20% of controls but was only performed in 16% of asphyxiated infants and in 8% of controls. Furthermore, the median response times of delivery suite staff for abnormal fetal heart rate patterns were similar whether the FHR changes, classified using Krebs' CTG scoring system, were moderate or severe: 80 min and 90 min, respectively. These findings suggest that interpretation of the intrapartum CTG continues to pose major problems for practising obstetricians.