Screening pregnant women for Group B streptococcus (GBS) is “not recommended” by the National Screening Committee (NSC).
About 150,000 pregnant women carry GBS each year in the UK and, in some cases, will pass the bacteria to their baby in labour.
In January 2016, a couple appealed for the pregnancy screening to be made mandatory, after their baby died from an infection that could have been prevented if caught early by a simple test.
However at the time, the NSC said the test should not be offered to all pregnant women as there was “insufficient evidence” to demonstrate that the benefits would outweigh the harms.
Now, following a further comprehensive review of the evidence, the independent screening committee has stood by the decision to not recommended a national screening programme for GBS in pregnancy.
Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK NSC, said: “At the moment there is no test that can distinguish between women whose babies would be affected by GBS at birth and those who would not.
“This means that screening for GBS in pregnancy would lead to thousands of women receiving antibiotics in labour when there is no benefit for them or their babies and the harms this may cause are unknown.
“This approach also cuts against the grain of ongoing efforts to reduce the number of people receiving unnecessary antibiotics.
“Much better evidence is needed on such widespread antibiotic use among pregnant women and whether it is possible to find a more accurate test.”
Each year in the UK, there are between 400 to 500 cases of early onset GBS, which occurs in the first seven days of a baby’s life. With prompt treatment, the vast majority of babies affected by this condition will fully recover, Public Health England stated.
It has been suggested that offering screening at a later stage (35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy) will help detect women carrying GBS who are more at risk of passing on the bacteria during labour.
However, the Committee still found that even screening at this later stage would cause more harm than good, with large numbers of people still unnecessarily receiving antibiotics.
As part of a regular review process, these recommendations will be looked at again in three years – or earlier if significant new evidence becomes available.
The latest screening recommendations were made at the UK NSC’s meeting on 8 February 2017, the minutes of which were published on 22 March, 2017.
In January 2016, Shaheen McQuade, 24, and Craig Blackie, 32, gathered 12,000 signatures on a petition calling for all pregnant women to be given the swab test that detects the Group B infection.
The couple’s son Zach Blackie died in August 2015, when he was just two weeks old, after contracting the early-onset GBS (group B streptococcus) infection, which lead to meningitis. McQuade unknowingly carried the infection.
The couple presented the petition to Holyrood’s public petitions committee and MSPs promised to take “definitive action” on the matter.
“No mother should ever have to cope with losing a baby,” McQuade told HuffPost UK Parents at the time.
“To live with the knowledge that it was preventable is a million times worse. It is indescribable the feeling I have to learn that a simple test would have saved my son’s life.
“The NHS took a gamble with my son’s life and they lost.”