A new ‘gold standard’ test to detect Group B Strep in pregnant women, the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, was due to be implemented on 1 January 2014.
However, Public Health England, formerly the Health Protection Agency, has reversed the decision after its research concluded that the effectiveness of the new test on ‘high-risk’ women has not been evaluated or recommended within current clinical guidance.
At present, pregnant women are given a ‘general purpose’ test to detect Group B Strep at 35 to 37 weeks pregnant. If they test positive, around one in four women are carriers, and they may be given antibiotics during labour to protect their babies from the infection.
However, charity Group B Strep Support (GBSS) says that the current test fails to identify the infection in approximately two out of every five women carrying it.
GBSS warns that the decision not to offer the ‘gold standard’ test will leave future families grieving the loss of their baby and will bring no relief from the pain and suffering caused by the infection.
Jane Plumb, chief executive of Group B Strep Support (GBSS), said, ‘This decision flies in the face of the Government’s drive for cost efficiency through early intervention and prevention and totally ignores patient choice.
‘All we want is what women and their health professionals want – and what the Chief Medical Officer and the Minister told us they wanted – is that, when a swab for GBS is taken, health professionals should be able to access a good quality test that’s fit for purpose. This was to be introduced from 1 January 2014, but now, under the cover of Christmas, it has been cancelled. This decision leaves us way behind other developed countries, with hard-pressed health professionals unable to access the "gold standard" test.’
Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said, 'In 2012, the former Health Protection Agency (HPA) was asked to explore whether a more accurate test for Group B streptococcus (GBS) should be made available.
'In addition, Public Health England also undertook a piece of work with clinical organisations to determine in which circumstances the test could be used.
'This work concluded that no indication for testing high-risk women using new methods have been evaluated or recommended within current clinical guidance. However, research into the use of tests for GBS carriage in high-risk women are currently being considered.
‘Public Health England takes the matter of GBS very seriously and, together with its partners, continues to work hard to improve the situation. A national study of GBS in babies is due to begin shortly which will provide up to date information on how many babies develop the infection and contribute to the development of new tests.’
Group B Strep, the facts
- Almost one newborn baby a day in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suffers from Group B Strep infection.
- One in ten of these babies will die and a further one in 20 will suffer long-term physical or mental disabilities.
- Group B Strep in babies is up to 90 per cent preventable when antibiotics are given in labour to women found to be carrying the infection.
(Source-Group B Strep Support)