This week saw the release of information from a 22-month ground-breaking study by Northwick Hospital in London proving that GBS screening reduced the rate of life-threatening infections by 83%.
This is of course excellent news for all families affected by the tragedy of Group B Strep, but it also comes as no surprise because this is precisely what charity, Group B Strep Support and their excellent medical panel have been saying for years. International research from countries that do test pregnant women for Group B Strep confirms that, when ECM Gold Standard swab testing is offered to women, then infection rates drop by over 70% and in some cases by as much as 90%.
The National Screening Committee has repeatedly refused to introduce GBS testing here in the UK for a number of reasons - they have cited a lack of UK based evidence (while also refusing to fund UK based studies) and they have also expressed concern over risk of increased complications if women were to have allergic reactions to penicillin (used to prevent Group B Strep passing from mother to baby) along with fears that it could increase antibiotic resistance.
Northwick Park Hospital had been following current UK guidelines for detecting Group B Strep, commonly referred to as The Risk Based Approach; but despite this, their infection rate was three times the national average. So Dr Gopal Rao, Consultant Microbiologist at NPH decided to set up a trial GBS screening programme to find out whether or not this would help reduce the infection rate at the hospital.
Over the 22 month trial, 6,000 women voluntarily chose to accept Group B Strep testing using the ECM Gold Standard swab test. During this time, only three babies born at the hospital contracted Group B Strep Infections and of those, only one of the mothers had accepted screening. This study resulted in an overall fall of 63% in Group B Strep infections (taking into account those who refused the test) and 83% in women who accepted the test. Crucially, there were no adverse reactions to either screening or treatment - no increased antibiotic resistance and no allergic reactions.
In a deep irony, the results of the study have been published in the BMJ Open Medical Journal just days after the UK Screening Committee once again refused to introduce nationwide GBS testing insisting that there is "insufficient evidence" to support it.
Here in Shropshire, Jeremy Hunt has recently announced an investigation into the preventable deaths of seven babies at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals and two of those preventable deaths were as a result of Group B Strep infections that were neither detected nor treated properly. This investigation announcement also comes just under two months after Phillip Dunne MP, on behalf of Jeremy Hunt, responded to the petition seeking nationwide GBS screening that we presented to the Department of Health in January with over 250,000 signatures. In his letter, the Minister rejected our request and insisted that the government were already doing all they could to prevent these devastating infections.
And yet, on average, in the UK:
2 babies every day develop Group B Strep infection
1 baby every week dies from Group B Strep infection
1 baby every week survives with disabilities as a result of Group B Strep infection
When will the Screening Committee, the Government, and the NHS wake up and smell the coffee? It doesn't need to be this way. These deadly infections can and should be prevented. This study from Northwick Park Hospital proves it.
You can read more about this on the website of charity, Group B Strep Support here: Northwick Park Hospital GBS Study or here: LNWH NHS Trust