To define the incidence of urinary tract abnormalities detected by antenatal ultrasound and assess changes in postnatal management we conducted a retrospective survey using data bases of the nephro-urology unit, obstetric ultrasound and perinatal pathology departments. The birth population (105,542) of the two Nottingham teaching hospitals between January 1984 and December 1993 was divided into two 5-year cohorts, 1984–1988 and 1989–1993. Detailed fetal scanning at 18–20 weeks gestation was introduced in 1989. During this 10-year period, 201 abnormalities of the urinary tract were noted with a 2:1 male to female ratio. The incidence of abnormalities in the first 5 years was 1 in 964 compared to 1 in 364 in the last 5 years. There was a significant increase in the number detected before 20 weeks gestation (12% in 1984–1988 compared to 62% in 1989–1993). Despite the increased incidence of abnormalities detected, the termination rate remained static between the two 5-year cohorts. Only 3 fetuses had intra-uterine intervention and 173 were live-born. Eight infants subsequently died in association with other major congenital abnormalities. The incidence of transient abnormalities (antenatal dilatation with no abnormality noted on postnatal ultrasound) increased from 6% in 1984–1988 to 18% in the 1989–1993 cohort. A more conservative approach to postnatal management is reflected by 71% of infants having operations between 1984 and 1988 compared to 35% in 1989–1993. Conclusion The advent of detailed fetal scanning at 18–20 weeks gestation has significantly increased the detection rate of urinary tract abnormalities with no significant increase in pregnancy termination rates. The need for antenatal intervention is a rare event and most problems can be managed conservatively both pre- and postnatally.