Written by Lucy Swain
As the fog obscured the view of Big Ben, the sights of Group B Strep Support and friends who gathered in Westminster on Monday morning could not have been more firmly set on a future free from preventable deaths and disability from Group B Strep.
Advocates for GBS screening assembled in Westminster to support the delivery of more than 256,000 signatures to the Department of Health calling for the NHS to provide screening for pregnant women to detect GBS in the later stages of pregnancy. The event was an excellent occasion to show our support for one of CoMO's most proactive members and it was an honour to be invited.
Before the march over to Whitehall, Fiona Paddon, who started the petition in July 2015, gave a powerful testimony of how GBS had crippled her family when her son died, just 9 days after birth. She questioned why in England, where there is the technology and need to prevent these deaths, screening is still not provided.
Many of those hearing Mrs Paddon’s testimony knew the situation all too well as they too have experienced this grief and anger. Some had travelled many miles to be here today, to witness the day that could catalyse the next step in introducing GBS screenings.
The letter to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State of Health asks for pregnant women to be:
Offered information about group B Strep
Offered the GBS-specific ECM (enriched culture medium) test for group B Strep carriage and
Offered antibiotics in labour if group B Strep is detected during the current pregnancy, or where other recognised risk factors are present.
If doctors know a mother is carrying GBS, antibiotics can be given during labour to prevent the infection - over 80% of these infections in babies born to women testing positive for GBS carriage could be prevented. However the GBS-specific ECM (enriched culture medium) test is not routinely available in the NHS: when tests are done, they usually use a standard swab test not designed to find GBS. Campaigners do not consider the NHS test to be accurate in predicting which babies will develop the infection as more and more babies are getting infected. As Fiona Paddon stated, “we need to stop guessing and start testing”.
Change in the healthcare profession is sometimes challenging to bring about. Nonetheless, the voices of 256,000 citizens cannot be ignored. I have no doubt that this determined group of strong mothers, fathers, wider family and friends, will not give in without putting up a good fight.
You can have your say in improving the prevention of Group B strep infections in newborn babies in the UK by commenting in the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC)’s public consultation. Please act fast as the consultation closes on Wednesday 25th January.
Written by Lucy Swain
Lucy is the Events and Communications Officer at CoMO. She is a graduate from the University of Liverpool, where she studied French and Hispanic Studies. Lucy has experience working for a range of organisations in the charity sector both in the UK and overseas.