Babies are Dying Needlessly in the UK Through Ignorance and Unavailability of Tests Routinely Offered in Other Western Countries

By Group B Strep Support, PRNE
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

LONDON, December 15, 2011 -

A new opinion poll has found that most young women support the introduction of a national screening programme to detect Group B Strep in pregnant women.

A recent survey conducted by ComRes on behalf of Group B Strep Support demonstrated that while more than half (54%) the women aged between 20-35 surveyed had heard of group B Strep, only 20% knew what it was.

The survey also showed that once young women are made aware of the dangers of group B Strep in pregnancy the overwhelming majority believe that pregnant women should always be offered information, tests and, when the bacteria is detected, antibiotics in labour.

  • 92% believe that information on group B Strep should be given to all pregnant women
  • 92% would welcome the opportunity for pregnant women to be screened for group B Strep in the later stages of pregnancy and believe this should be offered to women routinely
  • 95% believe antibiotics should be offered in labour to women with group B Strep and that they themselves would definitely or probably accept the offer (89%)

Jane Plumb, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support said

“Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies.  Every year, around 340 babies develop GBS infection within seven days of birth.  Of those, one in ten will die while around one in five will be permanently disabled.

This is needless, because with proper information, testing and treatment - as is routine in the US, Canada, Australia and many European countries - most of these tragic cases could be avoided.  The Government should introduce a national screening programme for Group B Strep at the earliest opportunity.”

Media Doctor Dr Chris Steele MBE said

“At present there is no national testing for group B Strep in pregnancy.  The tests that are done are not designed to detect GBS and give a high level of falsely negative results, meaning women think they are free from GBS when they are not.  Tests are available for GBS which pose no risk to mother or baby, but they are currently only available privately. They should be offered on the NHS.

The Government should act now to ensure women get the very best advice and support during their pregnancy.  This should include information on the serious nature of Group B Strep infection, the offer of testing, followed by appropriate antibiotics during labour to protect the baby from infection.”

Charlotte Cheshire a parent from Telford, said

“The consequence of Group B Strep infection is devastating.

When Adam was born in March 2011 he appeared a happy and healthy little boy. However, by the morning after his birth he was grunting and not feeding and the staff quickly realised something was wrong.  Adam stopped breathing, began to have seizures and was running a high fever.  He was placed on a cocktail of antibiotics while the staff confirmed the diagnosis of group B strep infection.   We were told he was not expected to live and if he did survive he could be severely disabled.

Adam survived but was in intensive care for the first 23 days of his life and will require intensive, on-going monitoring throughout his childhood.  At present, Adam’s only identified long term problem is severe hearing damage.  It could have been so much worse.

Yet all this could have been averted - if I’d had a sensitive GBS test late in pregnancy, it would almost definitely have found GBS and, with antibiotics from the start of labour, Adam could have been protected.

I am Canadian and if I had chosen to have Adam in my native country, sensitive testing for GBS is routine as it is in many other western and European countries and we could have avoided the distress, trauma and consequences of GBS infection.

Pregnant women should ask about group B Strep and the Government should ensure that information is given to all pregnant women. I know that routine testing is being considered.  I believe a national programme should be introduced as soon as possible to reduce the number of families that have to suffer the horrors of GBS infection in their newborn babies.

I am calling on every politician in the land to demand that the health services in the UK act now and offer screening to pregnant women against this life threatening infection.”

In light of the poll findings, Group B Strep Support is asking that

  • Information about GBS should be routinely given to all women as part of their antenatal care
  • Sensitive testing for GBS should be made freely available within the NHS and offered to every pregnant woman whose baby is at low risk of developing GBS infection
  • Antibiotics should be offered intravenously in labour to all mums whose babies are known to be at higher risk of developing GBS infection
  • The use of the ’standard’ test within the NHS for the detection of GBS carriage in pregnancy should cease and vaginal swabs from pregnant women should always be tested using a method that offers good sensitivity for GBS detection

Notes to the Editor

Group B Strep Support

GBSS is a UK charity set up in 1996 to prevent GBS infection in newborn babies.  

GBS is a normal bacterium carried by up to 30% of adults.  It can be passed from mother to baby around labour.  This causes no problems for most babies: for others can be deadly, causing blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis.  

GBSS has recently launched an epetition calling for better prevention of group B Strep infection in babies in the UK.

Dr Chris Steele MBE

Resident doctor, ITV’s This Morning, 2007 Health Journalist of the Year, 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, Guild of Health Writers


ComRes interviewed 1,000 20-35 year old women in the UK online between 28th October and 1st November 2011.  Data was weighted to be demographically representative of 20-35 year old women in the UK.  The full data tables are available at

Questions asked

Q1. Which one of the following statements applies best to your situation at the moment?

  • I have one or more children and don’t plan to have any more
  • I have or more children and plan to have more
  • I am currently pregnant
  • I don’t have any children now but hope to have one or more children at some point in the future
  • I don’t have any children and don’t expect to at any point in the future

Q2 Have you heard of Group B Streptococcus (also known as Group B Strep)

Q3 Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in new born babies.  Do you think that information about Group B Strep should be routinely given to pregnant women as part of their antenatal care, or not?

Q4. There is a test available for Group B Strep which poses no risk at all to mother or baby. Do you think that women should be routinely offered this test during pregnancy to see if they are carrying Group B Strep?

Q5. If a mother is found to be carrying Group B Strep in pregnancy, she can receive intravenous antibiotics during labour which are known to reduce the risk of Group B Strep infection in the baby by up to 90%. Do you think women carrying Group B Strep should be offered this choice or not?

Q6. If you were found to be carrying Group B Strep, would you agree to receive intravenous antibiotics in labour if it would minimise the risk of serious infection for your baby, or not?

For further information

Jane Plumb, Chief Executive, Group B Strep Support for comment or to contact families affected by group B Strep.

Case study photographs are available upon request, plus regional case studies.

Tel:        +44(0)1444-416176        

Mobile: +44(0)7986-745387

will not be displayed