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VIDEO: Surrey mum calls for routine testing for infection that killed her newborn baby

Belinda Bowman

9:15am 9th July 2015
(Updated 9:29am 9th July 2015)

An Ottershaw mum is calling for routine testing for the infection that killed her newborn baby.

Lily was Belinda Bowman's fourth child, she had not had any problems or complications with the others.

But, after getting Lily home, she was almost immediately back in hospital.

Lily broke out in a rash and what looked like bruising. Belinda would later find out this was septicemia.

Her little daughter had had the Group B Strep infection passed on to her at birth.

"Nothing ever gets back to normal, you have to find you're own new type of normal, and that's never quite the same.

"People always think that time heals and actually I don't think it does.

"I can compare to friends that had babies at a similar time, and they're walking and going to nursery.

"You've constantly got a comparison and you can never quite get over that."


One baby a week will die from Group B Strep infection


It is a bacteria, carried by almost a third of women, and during labour it can pass on to the baby.

It goes undetected because it is often symptomless and rarely dangerous to mum.

However, one baby will be diagnosed with the infection a day, and one baby dies from it every week. 

"What makes it worse, is that if it was a one off, if it was just the one thing that had happened that was rare, you could possibly deal with that a bit better.

"I think what's harder to deal with is that it is still happening.

"One baby a day is being infected with GBS, one baby a week is dying from GBS still, yet we're doing nothing about that."

Testing for Group B Strep


There is a test for Group B Strep, and it can be successfully treated.

If pregnant women are tested and they are shown to have the infection they are offered antibiotics during labour.

In 80 - 90% of cases this saves the baby from getting the infection.

However, in this country it is not regulation to routinely offer the test to women.

They will only be offered it if they present certain 'risk factors'.

Many though, have never heard of Group B Strep, and some will not fit the 'at risk' criteria and still have it.

Belinda, had had three other healthy children and did not present any of the risk factors:


Belinda wants all the government to introduce testing for all mums to be.

Many others agree with her, and over 100,000 people have signed charity Group B Strep Support's petition calling for every pregnant woman to be:

  • Offered information about group B Strep
  • Offered the GBS-specific ECM test for group B Strep carriage and
  • Offered antibiotics in labour if group B Strep is detected during the current pregnancy, or where other recognised risk factors are present


Belinda tells she and Lily's story. Lily was declared brain dead after being infected with Strep B.


Half of expectant or new mums have never heard of Strep B


Belinda and the charity say awareness is one of the other big issues when it comes to Group B Strep.

They believe not only mothers, but midwives need to be better educated, and say if mums knew more, they could make a more informed decision.

Private tests are available and if more women knew about the risk they may choose to have one.

A recent survey, revealed only half of expectant and new mums had heard of GBS.

This is despite, on average, one baby a fortnight, who survives Group B Strep, suffering long term mental or physical disabilities.

However,  the UK National Screening Committee says information on GBS is given to all first time mums in a free NHS Pregnancy Book.

Group B Strep is the most common cause of life threatening infection in newborn babies, and like with Belinda's baby Lily, causes septicemia, pneumonia and meningitis. 

The current test ECM (enriched culture medium) for Strep B in pregnant women costs the NHS £11, according to Group B Strep Support.

A price Belinda thinks is worth it, to save babies lives:

"So many other countries have recognised that testing pregnant mothers would cost the NHS £11, so for the sake of £11 why aren't we testing mums.

"At the very least why aren't we giving mums the choice and making them aware of Group B Strep?"


Group B Strep on the rise in the UK?


Statistics published by Group B Strep Support reveal countries that do offer testing for it have seen the number of babies developing the infection dramatically fall:

In Spain, the number of cases fell by 86%, the USA by over 80% and France by 71%.  

By contrast, it found, in the UK the number of babies getting infected by Group B Strep has risen by 21% since national ‘risk-based’ guidelines were introduced in 2003.

Jane Plumb MBE, is Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support:

"Why aren’t we telling pregnant women about group B Strep? Why aren’t we giving our busy health professionals access to group B Strep specific tests?

"If Mum knows she’s carrying GBS late in pregnancy, she can make an informed decision about what’s best for her and her baby based on fact.

"The UK’s current guidelines were expected to reduce early-onset group B Strep infections in the UK by up to 60%. They haven’t, they’ve failed – using risk factors to determine which women are likely to be carrying group B Strep is little more than guesswork. It’s time to change."


Current GBS test 'not accurate enough': benefit of screening may not outweigh the harm


However, the UK National Screening Committee disagrees the test should be routinely introduced.

It does regularly review screening, so this may change, but at the moment is says the current ECM test is not accurate enough, and may lead to unnecessary antibiotic use.

It estimates between 17,000 and 25,000 women would need to be treated to prevent one death from early onset GBS.

It says it is for these reasons it is not clear that the benefit of screening would outweigh the harms and it is not clear that screening would significantly reduce the worst effects of GBS infection.

Dr Anne Mackie, Director of Programmes for the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC), said:

“Following a review in collaboration with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Royal College of Midwives and NHS England, it was concluded that there was no clinical indication for testing women for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) carriage using Enriched-Culture Medium (ECM) methods.

"The UK National Screening Committee’s (UK NSC) most recent review of screening concluded that the probability of a baby being affected by Early-Onset Group B Streptococcus (EOGBS) identified by antenatal testing with the ECM would be very low.

"However, the number of women that would be offered antibiotics as a result of having a positive test result would be very high. This could expose the mother and baby to unnecessary antibiotic use.

"We want to reassure women that if, during pregnancy, or following the birth of their baby, there is any risk of an infection, under current clinical guidance from RCOG and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) appropriate treatment would be offered to ensure their and their baby’s safety.

"An expert group, which includes the UK NSC, is currently developing a model looking at how screening in late pregnancy affects the likelihood of disability and death from GBS. This forum also provides an opportunity for experts to discuss important questions that are under much debate.

"The findings of this model will inform the next review of screening policy by the UK NSC."


Who is at risk of Strep B infection?

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend that women in the following groups are managed in line with national guidance:

• Mothers who have previously given birth to a baby who had an EOGBS infection
• GBS carriage detected in the current pregnancy (for example where there has been a urinary tract or vaginal infection)
• Mothers having a high temperature or other symptoms of infection during labour

Further health information


More on Group B Strep Support's petition

More on 'Lily's Legacy' Lily & Belinda Bowman's Story


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