Conservative MP for Mid Sussex, The Rt. Hon Sir Nicholas Soames, organised a Parliamentary cross-party meeting on Tuesday (06.01.2015) to highlight the failure of current risk-based prevention strategies to reduce the UK’s rate of group B Strep infection in newborn babies.
Chief Medical Officer Prof Dame Sally Davies and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health Dr Dan Poulter attended the meeting, together with Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director of Public Health England plus representatives from the Department of Health. The cross-party group included Mark Durkan MP for Derry, Kate Green MP for Stretford and Urmston and Sir Bob Russell MP for Colchester. Also in attendance was Prof Philip Steer, Chair of the Medical Advisory Panel for national charity Group B Strep Support (GBSS) and Mrs Jane Plumb, Chief Executive of GBSS.
Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and of meningitis in babies up to the age of 3 months. At least 500 babies a year in the UK are infected with group B Strep; of these, one in 10 sick babies die, one in 20 survivors suffer long-term problems and five in 10 survivors of group B Strep meningitis suffer long-term mental and physical problems including cerebral palsy.
Sir Nicholas made it clear he felt the Government has made all too slow progress to recognise the failings in the current risk-based prevention strategy to reduce the rate of these infections since its introduction in 2003 (0.37 cases per 1,000 live births in 2003, 0.38 cases per 1,000 live births in 2013). The actual number of newborn babies developing group B Strep infections has risen by 21% since 2003.
“This issue has been going on far too long, over 17 years” said Sir Nicholas, “and there is a considerable number of very senior politicians, including the Prime Minister, who are keen to make things happen.”
Group B Strep infection in newborn babies is preventable and is being successfully prevented in many other developed countries which routinely offer pregnant women screening using sensitive tests rarely available within the NHS. In these countries, rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies have fallen dramatically by up to 71% to 86%.
Carrying group B Strep during pregnancy is recognised as a key risk factor for group B Strep infection in newborn babies, and yet women here in the UK are rarely told about it by their health professionals and even more rarely offered testing. All of the MPs present fully support the campaign to offer antenatal screening for group B Strep in the UK.
Sir Nicholas added, “This was an important meeting since progress has been, to date, unacceptably slow. All Members of Parliament present at the meeting left feeling hopeful that there is a sort-of plan in place and a timetable which will enable us to hold the Government accountable for progress.”
Prof Dame Sally Davies said that the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) had started to examine the evidence for their 2015/6 policy review. The MPs asked that the process must be robust, based on robust evidence and including the international experience in preventing group B Strep infections in newborns.
Sir Nicholas thanked all present for attending and the Minister and Chief Medical Officer for receiving a cross-party delegation and for listening with care to the points made.