Failure to prevent the rise of deadly infection in newborn babies has prompted a Conservative MP to call for action.
Conservative MP for Mid Sussex Nicholas Soames organised a parliamentary cross-party meeting on Tuesday (6 January) to highlight the failure of current prevention strategies to reduce the UK’s rate of group B Strep infection in newborn babies.
Chief medical officer Sally Davies and parliamentary under secretary of state for health Dan Poulter attended the meeting, together with representatives from Public Health England and the Department of Health.
Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and of meningitis in babies up to the age of three months.
At least 500 babies a year in the UK are infected with group B Strep; of these, one in 10 babies die, one in 20 survivors suffer long-term problems and five in 10 survivors of group B Strep meningitis suffer long-term mental and physical problems including cerebral palsy.
Nicholas said that the government’s progress in recognising the failings of the risk-based prevention strategy was too slow.
The strategy was introduced in 2003 when there were 0.37 cases per 1000 live births.
In 2013, there were 0.38 cases per 1000 live births. The actual number of newborn babies developing group B Strep infections has risen by 21% since 2003.
‘This issue has been going on far too long, over 17 years and there is a considerable number of very senior politicians, including the prime minister, who are keen to make things happen,’ he said.
Group B Strep infection has been successfully prevented in other developed countries that routinely offer pregnant women screening using sensitive tests rarely available on the NHS.
In these countries, rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies have fallen dramatically by up to 71% to 86%. (Albouy-Llaty et al, 2011).
All of the MPs present at the meeting supported the campaign to offer antenatal screening for group B Strep in the UK.
Anne Mackie, the UK National Screening Committee’s director of programmes, said: ‘The most recent review of screening concluded that the probability of a baby being affected by early-onset group B Strep identified by antenatal testing with the enriched-culture medium would be very low.
‘However, the number of women that would be offered antibiotics as a result of having a positive test result would be very high. This could expose the mother and baby to unnecessary antibiotic use.’
The reasons are further outlined in the committee’s FAQs, which can be read by clicking here.