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Medical lawyer welcomes new guidance on Group B Strep but joins calls for testing for all pregnant women

Medical lawyer Emmalene Bushnell has welcomed new guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) for more women to be tested and treated for Group B Strep (GBS), an infection which can cause meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia, and death in infants.

Posted on 13 September 2017

Whilst welcoming the new guidance Emmalene has joined calls from charities for all pregnant women to be offered the test as they are in other countries.

The new guidance from RCOG means that women who go into labour before 37 weeks gestation should be offered antibiotics to prevent passing on GBS.

The updated guidance which has been provided to NHS trusts also says that women who have previously tested positive for GBS in a former pregnancy can be tested to see if they need antibiotics in labour.

GBS occurs naturally in the digestive system and lower vaginal tract of around a quarter of women at any one time and usually causes no harm but it can be passed onto babies during labour.

Whilst the NHS does not recommend screening for GBS, many other countries - including the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia - routinely offer a test to pregnant women.

In February Emmalene Bushnell joined charity Group B Strep Support and bereaved parents Fiona Paddon and Scott Bramley, MPs, and other families and supporters to deliver a 256,000 signature petition to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, calling for all pregnant mothers to be tested for GBS.

Peter Brocklehurst, Professor of Women's Health at the University of Birmingham and a co-author of the guideline, said:

"This guidance provides clear advice to doctors and midwives on which women should be offered antibiotics to avoid passing GBS infection onto their babies.

"In particular, we hope to reduce the number of early onset Group B Strep infections and neonatal deaths in babies born before 37 weeks.

"The management of women whose babies are at raised risk of developing Group B Strep infection remains a vital part of reducing illness and deaths caused by this infection.

"Ensuring a consistent approach to care in all maternity units is vital to achieving the best outcomes for both mother and baby."

Emmalene Bushnell from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day said:

“We recognise that this new guidance will save lives and prevent serious injury to babies who might otherwise have suffered due to this preventable infection.

“However, given the fact that GBS remains the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in this country we believe that all mothers should be given the choice to have the test and that the test is the best available. One preventable death is one too many.”

Jane Plumb, chief executive of the charity Group B Strep Support, said:

"When fully implemented across the UK, we believe this change will make a real difference and we will see the rate of infections start to fall."

The charity called for the tests to use enriched culture medium (ECM) testing, which costs around £11 per test as it claims the current NHS test is inadequate and misses around half of women carrying GBS.


Symptoms of GBS in babies include being floppy and unresponsive, not feeding well, grunting, having a high or low temperature, and fast or slow breathing or heart rate.


  • According to latest statistics 500 UK babies were infected with it in 2015.
  • 17 out of 20 babies with the infection will fully recover if they are given prompt antibiotic treatment.
  • However, two in 20 babies will be left disabled, and one in 20 will die.
  • Women are at higher risk of passing GBS to their baby if they go into premature labour, with 22% of GBS cases in 2015 to babies born prematurely.
  • Around one in 500 babies born early will develop GBS, compared to one in 2,000 for babies born at term.   
  • And between 20% and 30% of premature babies with GBS will die compared to 2% to 3% of those born at term.