What is Group B Strep (“GBS”)?
Group B strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria. It is very common in both men and women, affecting around 20% - 40% of women in the UK. It is normally harmless, and most people will not realise that they are carrying it. However, for pregnant women, there is a small chance that it can affect the baby around the time of birth. For those mothers and their babies, whilst the risk might be small, the consequences can be devastating. Infection can lead to meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia and even still births and infant deaths.
For this reason Group B Strep Support, a charity whose aim is to stop Group B Strep infection in babies, have been tirelessly campaigning for a greater awareness of this risk and of preventative measures, firstly to avoid infection in the first place and secondly to recognise it and therefore ensure quick and effective treatment.
It is very heartening that this year there have been significant steps towards achieving this goal, moving towards a greater awareness of this issue and also to prevention in the form of vaccination.
What advances have been made in the last 12 months in relation to GBS?
Firstly, in May 2023 NHS England published the second version of their Core Competency Framework. This sets minimum training standards required for all professionals working in maternity and neonatal care. The topic of “Group B strep in Labour” has, for the first time, been included as a mandatory topic to be covered in training. This means that all maternity and neonatal services across the country will be required to provide their staff with training that addresses GBS. This should go some way to reduce the postcode lottery of information, care and support that families currently face.
Certainly, this is something that we at Tozers are well aware of, as our clients frequently report that, not only were they themselves unaware of the early signs of infection, but also these signs were missed by those providing care to them and their babies. This mandatory training should lead to better prevention of infection and earlier identification of symptoms when it does occur, ensuring earlier effective treatment to ensure better outcomes for families. This represents a real step forward in the provision of care for expectant mothers and their babies and a step for which Group B Strep Support have long advocated.
Another significant development is the continuation of research into a vaccine for GBS. It is hoped that this will be a vaccine made available to pregnant women in the same way that, since October 2012, there has been a maternal vaccine given to pregnant women to protect their babies from whooping cough.
A recent study entitled “Maternal Immunisation Against Group B Streptococcus: a Global Analysis of Heath Impact and Cost Effectiveness” was published in March 2023. This found that if such a reasonably priced vaccine were to be introduced globally it is highly likely to be a cost-effective intervention as well as providing a significant impact on infant death and long-term disability. In 2020 140 million pregnant women across the world were assessed to study the health and economic effect of such a vaccination against GBS. The research found that vaccinating pregnant women would:
a) Reduce many cases of early and late-onset GBS.
b) Reduce GBS stillbirths.
c) Potentially reduce GBS associated preterm birth.
Whilst the vaccine would naturally involve increased costs, these costs would be offset by the overall saving in healthcare costs and healthcare gains related to long term disability and a reduction in infant deaths.
This is great news because despite the current prevention strategy in the UK which currently involves identifying pregnant women whose babies are at increased risk of developing early onset GBS and giving them antibiotics in labour, cases of GBS infection continue to rise.
What to do if you have been affected by Group B Strep
If you wish to discuss making a claim in relation Group B Strep infection, please contact our experienced solicitor Simon Mansfield, a Partner in the Clinical Negligence Team at Tozers and on the legal panel of Group B Strep Support.