All pregnant women should be routinely tested for a bacteria that can cause life-threatening complications for newborn babies, a Conservative MP has said.
Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, said the current approach to group B streptococcus (GBS) focused on women thought to be at risk, but countries that offered routine anti-natal testing had seen numbers of early on-set of the disease fall dramatically.
Ms Dorries said David Cameron, before becoming Prime Minister, told the Commons 10 years ago the routine test should be offered to pregnant women with those found to have GBS at the 35 to 37-week stage being automatically offered intravenous antibiotics.
She said she echoed his sentiments and told MPs that tests cost less than £12 and as penicillin was the recommended antibiotic in labour it would not be expensive.
NHS guidance states most pregnant women who carry GBS bacteria have healthy babies although there is a small risk it can pass to the baby during childbirth.
It adds that extremely rare cases involve GBS infection during pregnancy that can cause miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth.
Early onset GBS infections can lead to cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and serious learning difficulties for the child, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said.
Ms Dorries, leading an adjournment debate on the issue, told Dr Poulter: “The focus is on women who are at risk of group B strep.
“What I am trying to advocate and push for is that… we don’t know always which women are at risk and all women should be tested for group B strep.
“Every pregnant woman I meet now I recommend buys a kit for testing group B strep.
“And whereas it’s very encouraging and it’s very positive moves you are indicating, it is still focusing on the at risk women, which is what the at risk strategy does now.”
Dr Poulter said a vaccine was thought to be five years away in development, that there had been significant investment in the maternity workforce and work was continuing to improve approaches to GBS.
He said the UK National Screening Committee recommended in 2012 that anti-natal screening for GBS at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy should not be offered.
Dr Poulter said: “The reasons that were given were currently available screening tests cannot distinguish between women whose babies would be affected and those that were not.
“As a result, about 140,000 low-risk women would be offered antibiotics in labour following a positive screening test result, the overwhelming majority of women would have a healthy baby without screening and treatment.
“In other words, a women who screens positive for group B strep at one point in pregnancy may not necessarily be carrying group B strep at the time of delivery and therefore 140,000 women potentially on an annual basis who would be given antibiotics who wouldn’t have actually needed them in labour.
“There are also concerns quite understandably on the back of that evidence about resistance to some antibiotics used to prevent early onset group B strep, the long-term effects on the newborn and the potential for anaphylactic reactions in labour.”
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