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Government advised not to approve GBS screening in pregnant women

Government is advised not to approve screening for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy.
Petri dish

The government has been recommended not to approve screening for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy.

The UK National Screening Committee which advises the UK governments on population screening concluded carriage of GBS changes with time, so women may show signs at 35 weeks, but not have the bacterium at labour.

According to NHS choices, most pregnant women who carry GBS bacteria go on to have healthy babies, but there is a small risk that GBS can pass to the baby during childbirth.

Sometimes GBS infection in newborn babies known as early onset GBS (EOGBS) can cause life-threatening complications, but this is not common. Extremely rarely, GBS infection during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage, premature labour, or stillbirth.

Inappropriate antibiotics use

The committee stated:

The government has been recommended not to approve screening for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy.


Experts fear screening could lead to unnecessary antibiotic use  Photo: iStock

The UK National Screening Committee – which advises the UK governments on population screening – concluded carriage of GBS changes with time, so women may show signs at 35 weeks, but not have the bacterium at labour.

According to NHS choices, most pregnant women who carry GBS bacteria go on to have healthy babies, but there is a small risk that GBS can pass to the baby during childbirth.

Sometimes GBS infection in newborn babies – known as early onset GBS (EOGBS) can cause life-threatening complications, but this is not common. Extremely rarely, GBS infection during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage, premature labour, or stillbirth.

Inappropriate antibiotics use

The committee stated: ‘There is no way to predict which babies will be affected by EOGBS and which will be born without complications. There is concern that large numbers – tens of thousands – of women will be offered and take antibiotics when they do not need to. The long-term effects of antibiotics for mother and baby are unknown.’

The decision was criticised by the baby charity Group B Strep Support. Chief executive Jane Plumb said international evidence demonstrates the benefits of screening.

Families' wishes 'ignored'

Fiona Paddon, whose son died from EOGBS after nine days, said he might still have been alive, had screening been in place. ‘It’s outrageous that the UK National Screening Committee is ignoring the wishes of families, charities and health professionals – including the 290,000 who signed the Change.org petition I set up – as well as the huge amounts of evidence from other countries,’ she said.

Clea Harmer, chief executive of the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, said: ‘The decision not to recommend screening for GBS during pregnancy will be disappointing for many, but without new evidence the UK National Screening Committee will not recommend routine screening. A reliable test should be offered to expectant mothers who would like it and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines should be followed with regard to antibiotics. Parents must be supported to make fully informed choices.’

In other news:

Unions condemn 'derisory' pay rise for nurses in England

Half of UK patients with leukaemia do not have access to clinical nurse specialist

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