05/03/2017 00:01 GMT

One Baby Dies Every Two Weeks Because Of A Preventable Infection, Probe Finds

One baby dies every two weeks because of a preventable infection, an investigation has found.

Public Health England has told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates that the number of babies being made ill by early onset group B streptococcus (GBS) has increased by 12% between 2011 and 2015.

The programme said that according to the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, 518 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland were made ill as a result of the bacteria, 27 died and dozens more were left with disabilities in the year to April 2015.

GBS is harmless in most cases but can lead to a range of serious illnesses, including septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis if contracted within the first week of a baby's life.

The bacteria, carried by an estimated one in four pregnant women, is passed from mother to baby.

In the majority of cases babies can be protected if the mother is given intravenous antibiotics during labour.

Women featured on the programme feel very strongly that every mother should be tested for Group B.

The programme said this is already the case in some European countries and the US, but routine screening is not done in the UK, adding that the decision on whether to introduce it in this country is down to the Department of Health which takes expert advice from the National Screening Committee.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, told the programme: "The UK independent expert screening committee's last review of screening for group B strep carriage found testing in late pregnancy unreliable.

"This is because the test cannot distinguish between women whose babies will be affected by early onset group B strep and those who would not.

"This could lead to a high number of mothers and babies being exposed to unnecessary antibiotic use."

The programme said a clinical trial has recently been undertaken at Northwick Park Hospital in London in which more than 5,000 women were screened, with those testing positive offered antibiotics in labour.

Full trial results are expected to be reported in the British Medical Journal but preliminary results given after the first eighteen months showed an 80% reduction in the number of babies infected with the bacteria, the show said.

:: BBC Radio 5 live Investigates is on at 11am on Sunday.