View from Westminster: I am asking the government to fund Group B Strep screening tests to save lives

News Desk (10 July, 2019) Columnists

On average, two babies each day in the UK develop a Group B Strep infection and each week one baby dies and another is left with a life changing disability as a result

26745MP Helen Hayes.

I was sitting at home on a Saturday evening in October 2008, nine months pregnant with my second baby, when the telephone rang.

It was a nurse from the maternity team at King’s College Hospital.  She said that test results from a check-up earlier that week showed that I had an infection, and it was really important that I started taking antibiotics right away, writes Helen Hayes…

She said that she was going to fax a prescription to a late night duty pharmacy and that I should go right away to collect it.

I was feeling well, and could barely move, so I questioned whether this could wait until the morning, but she was insistent – you must go now in case you go into labour, as the infection could be very dangerous for your baby.

That was it, I collected the prescription, took the antibiotics and a few days later my healthy baby girl was born.

What I now know, is that the infection was Group B Strep, the most common cause of serious infection in new born babies in the UK, and one of the leading causes of neonatal sepsis and meningitis.

On average, two babies each day in the UK develop a Group B Strep infection and each week one baby dies and another is left with a life changing disability as a result.  But the UK does not currently routinely test pregnant women from Group B Strep – at present they have to show other risk factors or symptoms in order to be given the test.  In countries where testing is routine, the incidence has fallen dramatically by up to 86 per cent.  The test costs just £11, and it saves lives.

July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, and the charity Group B Strep Support is encouraging people to raise awareness of Group B Strep.  It isn’t right that women who have no symptoms or risk factors are currently left to pass Group B Strep bacteria on to their babies, putting their lives at risk.

I am asking the government to fund Group B Strep screening tests for women who are 35-37 weeks pregnant on the NHS, to save lives.

In the meantime, if you are pregnant, please ask your midwife about Group B Strep, so that everything possible can be done to ensure that you and your baby are not at risk of Group B Strep.

I am forever grateful for that phone call on a Saturday night in 2008, which meant that my baby – now a lively ten year old – was healthy.  I now want the same for every pregnant woman and newborn in the UK.

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