Routine testing for Group-B Streptococcus

29th May 2019 Clinical Negligence

The National Institute for Health Research recently announced a large clinical trial into the approaches used by the UK to prevent group B strep (GBS) infection in newborn babies. Currently a “risk-based„ approach is used to identify women who may be at greater risk of passing GBS to their child, but the study will compare this to the effectiveness of testing women for GBS at two different points during their pregnancy.

Sadly we regularly hear stories of babies exposed to group B Streptococcus. GBS can cause babies to be miscarried, stillborn, or become very sick and sometimes even die after birth. GBS most commonly causes infection in the blood, the fluid and lining of the brain (meningitis), and lungs (pneumonia) and the long-term consequences of these infections can be life changing.

Approximately one in five pregnant women carry GBS. If this goes undiagnosed there is a chance this can pass to their baby. Despite the dangerous consequences of this infection, sadly in the UK there is currently no routine testing for it in pregnancy and each year there are 400-500 babies born with GBS.

GBS can be treated quite simply with antibiotics. However experts have previously worried that routine testing would see antibiotics given to many more women. Previous research in 2017 led to independent experts stating that there was not enough proof that a national screening programme would actually benefit mothers and babies.

As a clinical negligence solicitor at JMW and having seen first-hand through our work the horrific effect GBS can have on babies and their families routine testing would seem to be a positive move towards protecting more babies.

The trial is to offer screening for this life-threatening bacterial infection in 80 hospitals in England, Wales and Scotland.

The study is hoped to answer the question as to whether women ought to be routinely tested for GBS in pregnancy and also to determine at what point testing ought to take place. This should hopefully, if the testing is effective, allow the right women to get the right antibiotics at the right time in the hope that fewer babies will suffer with GBS and its devastating consequences.

According to the BBC, Jane Plumb MBE, the founder and chief Executive of GBSS, a group B strep charity that provides support to families affected by the illness, has welcomed the trial and said the results would drive improvements and lead to fewer babies and their families suffering the trauma that the infection can bring.

I second this and believe the trial should provide important data which will help change the current system and bring about a reduction in the incidence of Group B Strep infection.

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Claire Boardman is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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