Group B Strep screening – Refused to be a routine test

The leading baby charity Group B Strep Support is devastated by the decision not to introduce life saving screening for newborn babies. The decision of the UK National Screening Committee against introducing routine screening of pregnant women for group B Strep has not been well received.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies[1].  It is a normally harmless bacterium carried by up to 30% of the population[2] and most babies are not affected by it.  However, when it does cause infections, these can be devastating.

In the UK, approximately 340 babies per year develop GBS infection within seven days of birth.  Of those infected babies, one in ten will die[3] of blood poisoning, pneumonia or meningitis. Around one in five survivors will be permanently affected by cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or serious learning difficulties[4].

Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support said

“The decision not to recommend routine screening for group B Strep is devastating news.  Every year, hundreds of newborn babies suffer illness, disability and death due to group B Strep.  This decision means yet more babies suffer from preventable infection, some of whom will die or survive with life-long disabilities.
 
In countries where routine screening has been introduced, GBS infections in babies have fallen dramatically, while here in the UK they have continued to rise.
 
I am at a loss to understand why the Committee refuses to see that the current situation in the UK is unacceptable and that the introduction of routine screening is the best way forward.
 
At a recent Royal College of Midwives conference, we asked 214 midwives if they supported antenatal screening for GBS, 75% said a routine offer of screening should be introduced.
 
Recent polling also showed overwhelming support from women themselves for screening, over 90% supported the introduction of routine screening and even the Prime Minister supported the campaign when he was in Opposition, yet the UK National Screening Committee has refused to budge and is sticking to an outdated and discredited approach to prevention that is not working.”

GBS infection is increasing in the UK.  Since prevention guidelines were introduced in 2003, the number of newborn babies reported to have had GBS infection in England, Wales & Northern Ireland has risen by 23%[5].

A 2011 survey[6] of 1,000 UK women found that 92% would welcome the opportunity of screening.  In addition, four recent reports have been commissioned through the Government’s Health Technology Assessment Programme to establish how to combat preventable GBS infection in newborn babies.  All found routine screening to be more cost-effective and/or clinically effective than the current approach based on risk factors which are poor predictors of GBS carriage.

In deciding against the introduction of screening, the UK National Screening Committee is flying in the face of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the consultation comments they received from families, health professionals, charities and professional bodies.  In total, they received 212 written responses in total, publishing 207 on their website. Of these, 93% were in favour of introducing screening for group B Strep in pregnancy (click here).

Baby William who suffered from GBSRuth Caisley from Haltwistle said,

“My son William (pictured right) is 17 now. He was born at 4.22 am and within 24 hours had stopped breathing.  He had group B Strep infection.  He was placed on a ventilator and spent 6 weeks in intensive care fighting for his life – at one point, we were told to turn off the ventilator that was keeping him alive.  William survived but has mild four-limb cerebral palsy, ADHD and learning difficulties.  

I’d never heard of group B Strep.  Luckily, because of GBSS’s website, I knew when I had my daughter, Bobbi, nine years later to insist on having antibiotics in labour and she is fine. 
 
The decision not to offer pregnant women screening for group B Strep is disgusting – if someone in the public eye had a baby sick with this infection, they would do something about it.  Every pregnant woman should be offered a test for it.  They routinely test you for loads of things that can’t be prevented – with a group B Strep test it means you can protect your healthy baby from devastating disease. 
 
It costs so much to look after a sick baby and then there’s the life-long care needed – physio, special schooling, etc – compared with the cost of a simple £12 test.”

Baby Jack who suffered from GBSAlison Lovatt from Chorley said,

“My little boy Jack (pictured right) nearly died from group B Strep.  He was 3 days old and in the Intensive Care Unit when we were told to prepare for him not to survive.  He’s now 3, our little miracle and absolutely fine.  We are doing all we can to raise awareness and prevent it happening to someone else.

I am absolutely devastated by the news that the National Screening Committee is not recommending introducing screening for group B Strep.  This is an insult to all our babies who have suffered and all the other babies of the future who will suffer this terrible devastating infection from sheer ignorance of mums who would do anything to prevent it if only they knew.  

I’ve been telling everyone about it – at least three of my friends have tested positive for group B Strep and they wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

Visit www.gbss.org.uk for more information and support.

Group B Strep screening


[1] RCOG. Prevention of early onset neonatal group B Streptococcal disease. Green top guideline 36, 2003.

[2] American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Committee Opinion: No 279: Prevention of Early onset Group B Streptococcal Disease in Newborns.  Obstet Gynecol 2002; 100 (6): 1405-1412.

[3] BMJ Group patient leaflet, Infection in newborn babies (group B streptococcus), March 23 2009. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2009.

[4] J Med Screen.  Maternal screening to prevent neonatal Group B streptococcal disease.  Journal of Medical Screening 2002; 9 (4)

[5] Health Protection Agency Pyogenic and non-pyogenic streptococcal bacteraemia, England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 2011 Health Protection Report [serial online] 2012; 6(46): Bacteraemia for the 2011 data.

[6] ComRes Survey  of 1,000 20-35 year old women in the UK online between 28th October and 1 November 2011.  interviewed 1,000 20-35 year old women in the UK online between 28th October and 1st November 2011.  Data was weighted to be demographically representative of 20-35 year old women in the UK.  The full data tables are available at www.comres.co.uk..

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Photo Credit: Group B Strep

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