By: 25 July 2023
Newborns at risk as mums kept in the dark about infection

New and expectant UK parents are not receiving vital information about a life-threatening neonatal infection, new data from Savanta reveals.   

Two-thirds of new and expectant mothers did not receive any information about group B Streptococcus (also known as group B Strep, GBS or Strep) from a healthcare professional, despite 2017 guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommending that this information should be provided to all pregnant women.[1] 

Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing serious infections including sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. In the UK, on average  

·        two babies a day develop group B Strep infection 

·        one baby a week dies from group B Strep infection and  

·        one baby a week recovers from their group B Strep infection with a life-changing disability[2]   

Yet most of these cases could be prevented.   

The survey of new and expectant mothers, commissioned by leading charity Group B Strep Support to mark July’s Group B Strep Awareness Month, also identified:  

·        While most (95%) had heard of the infection, fewer than two-thirds (62%) felt confident recognising symptoms in a baby  

·        66% would like to learn more about GBS from their healthcare professional  

·        93% support the introduction of national testing for GBS during pregnancy  

A simple swab test for GBS has been privately available for 20 years but is not routinely available on the NHS. Currently, the NHS takes a risk-factor based approach to identifying GBS – only testing pregnant women and people who fall within “high risk” categories. However, most high-income countries routinely offer antenatal testing to all pregnant women, including the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Spain.  

The test would cost the NHS around £15, while home-test packs are available privately from around £40.   

Group B Strep Support is calling for midwives to have better training and education on GBS to ensure they’re fully supported to inform expectant parents about prevention, testing that may be available and key signs of infection. Since May 2023, NHS England has mandated training [3] specifically on group B Strep for all NHS Trusts, but there is not yet any nationally available training materials for Trusts to use.   

Jane Plumb, Chief Executive, Group B Strep Support said: “These worrying findings show that progress still hasn’t been made by UK hospitals to deliver guideline-defined care – and expectant parents are being kept dangerously in the dark about group B Strep. Midwives are under immense pressure in the NHS, making it even harder for them to give each expectant parent the information and care they need. But the stakes are simply too high – babies’ lives are at risk.   

“We are calling for all Health Boards and NHS Trusts across the UK to implement RCOG’s guidelines and to support their midwives with training and education on group B Strep. It’s vital that pregnant women and people receive the right care and are armed with life-saving information about group B Strep.”   

Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “These new data show that more needs to be done to improve awareness of group B Strep among pregnant women and people. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ clinical guideline on group B Strep recommends that all pregnant women should be provided with information on group B Strep as part of their antenatal care.   

“As the leading cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, it’s so important that parents are empowered to make informed choices about their care. We’d encourage all health professionals to share the free patient information leaflet we developed in partnership with Group B Strep Support, which is available in 15 languages, including English.”