Testing could protect up to 400 newborns affected by GBS bacteria every year

Leading medical law experts at Leigh Day have today called on officials to review access to Group B Strep testing across the country after a successful pilot scheme at Northwick Park Hospital in which no participating mothers passed the bacteria to their babies.

Known as GBS, the usually harmless bug is carried by up to one in four women and can be dangerous if passed from mother to baby during labour. Campaigners have repeatedly called for screening to be introduced amidst concerns that the condition affects as many as 400 newborns in the UK every year.

But despite the dramatic results of the trial at the North-West London hospital in which all expectant women were offered access to a swab test, current guidelines only recommend testing women deemed to be ‘at risk’ – including those whose previous children have been affected.

Emmalene Bushnell, a Partner and medical law expert at Leigh Day, which represents a number of women affected as a result of the GBS bacteria being transferred during labour, has called for the Northwick model to be rolled out nationwide.

“What is evident from the scheme carried out at Northwick Park hospital is that this bacteria is more than manageable if the medical team is aware of it,” she said. “It is frustrating to think that something as simple as a swab could prevent infection, and help reduce the devastating consequences of GBS.

“I currently represent families whose newborn babies have suffered as a result of the condition not being identified quickly and a delay in treatment being administered.”

According to the findings of the 12-month programme at Northwick Park the only recorded cases occurred in women who had not been offered testing before the programme was fully implemented. Of those women who tested positive for GBS only half would have been classified as ‘at risk’ under current guidelines.

Emmalene said: “These findings are extremely concerning, and should act as a compelling reason for the National Screening Committee to consider an overhaul of the current guidelines,which could have left many of these women and their babies at risk.

“Whilst a mother carrying GBS does not necessarily mean that a baby will be affected during birth, if the condition is passed on the consequences can be devastating – particularly if not identified and addressed urgently. A simple swab would provide much reassurance for many expectant mothers across the country.”

Despite some concern that the antibiotics administered during labour carry their own risk to newborns, campaigners including the charity Group B Strep Support are calling on theNational Screening Committee to introduce universal testing for pregnant women during standard antenatal appointments, as is the case in Germany, France and the US.

The charity’s chief executive, Jane Plumb, was quoted yesterday in the Mail On Sunday saying that the findings of the programme at the hospital ‘contradict the party line that the risks of screening every woman outweigh the benefits’.

Consultant microbiologist at Northwick Park, Dr Guduru Gopal Rao, also quoted yesterday in the Mail On Sunday said that the hospital’s work shows that GBS screening of all expectant mothers can work and ‘is likely to be more effective than the current risk based approach’.

Emmalene Bushnell of law firm Leigh Day is currently representing Belinda Bowman, 37, who lost her daughter Lily after she contracted GBS during labour and went on to suffer from septicaemia. She was just three days old when she passed away.

Emmalene said: “For families like the Bowman’s, whose daughter Lily contracted GBS during labour, knowing that there is a test offered to all pregnant women will provide much reassurance.”