I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by GBS and I pay tribute to organisations like Group B Strep Support which campaigns to raise awareness and provide information and support to expectant mothers.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) estimates that around one in every 2,000 babies born in the UK is diagnosed with GBS infection. While in most cases it can be successfully treated with antibiotics, sadly some babies develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, septicaemia or meningitis. The NCT offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood. They can be contacted on 0300 330 0700.
Shockingly the UK is one of the few countries in the developed world where there is currently no standard screening programme for GBS in pregnant women. Yet it is the leading cause of infection in new-borns.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has published professional guidelines for GBS. Current UK policy is to assess whether pregnant women are likely to be carrying the bacteria using a set of criteria, and to treat accordingly. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has raised concerns, however, that this process is “not very accurate”.
I recognise the strength of support there is for providing routine testing for GBS to all expectant mothers on the NHS. In May 2019, the NIHR announced a landmark trial – GBS3 – which will test the effectiveness of two types of screening in 80 hospitals in England and Wales. The trial was due to report its findings in 2024. However, the Government confirmed some aspects of the trial have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and results are now expected in early 2025.
The University of Nottingham School of Medicine – which is leading the GBS3 trial – recently confirmed that 30 NHS hospitals are currently partaking. I am pleased that Labour has pressed the Government to work with the NIHR, NHS England and the GBS3 team to encourage trusts to take part in this important trial and to mitigate any individual challenges that might prevent their participation.