Coroner’s calls gives Essex mum renewed hope for introduction of NHS Group B Strep screening tests

Su Newton pictured with daughter Emily and son William

Su Newton pictured with daughter Emily and son William - Credit: Su Anderson

An Essex mum who nearly lost her daughter to a killer disease has new hopes for the introduction of lifesaving screenings following a coroner’s call for change.

Su Newton has been campaigning for screening tests to be offered routinely on the NHS

Su Newton has been campaigning for screening tests to be offered routinely on the NHS - Credit: Su Anderson

Su Newton, a mother-of-two from Colchester, has been campaigning for routine screening for Group B streptococcus (GBS) to be offered to pregnant women after her newborn daughter Emily nearly died from the little-known disease.

GBS is a usually harmless bacteria carried by around a fifth of pregnant women, but can become life-threatening if exposed to infants around the time of labour.

Hundreds of babies are infected with the disease every year with dozens dying and still more suffering long-term mental and physical disabilities. Campaigners have been urging the Government to offer routine screening to pregnant women using the “gold standard” enriched culture medium method. Current guidance is for only “high-risk” women to receive screening and even then by a method which is said to miss cases.

The campaign has gathered momentum this week after London coroner Julian Morris called for the policy to be reviewed following the death of baby Edward Paddon-Bramley, who suffered brain damage caused by GBS.

Emily Newton, in Addenbrooke's Hospital where she was treated having contracted Group B strep

Emily Newton, in Addenbrooke's Hospital where she was treated having contracted Group B strep - Credit: Archant

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A petition set up by Edward’s mother, Fiona Paddon, calling for GBS screening to be routinely offered has so far received more than 210,000 signatures.

Further support has come from the London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, which recently completed a screening pilot for GBS, showing an 80% reduction in cases of new-borns being infected with the bacteria. The results were presented on Tuesday at a conference on GBS. Public Health England said it remains opposed to routine screening, however, highlighting a review which could find “no clinical indication” for its introduction, while warning of the risk of “unnecessary antibiotic use”.

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Mrs Newton says she hopes the mounting pressure will change the Government’s positions and has praised Edward’s parents for bringing the campaign further into the public eye.

“One baby every day is born with GBS and one baby every week will die from it,” she said.

“How do you then explain to those families that this could have so easily been prevented? I think it’s bordering on neglect.

“I just hope that the coroner’s words carry some weight. At least it’s another string to the campaign’s bow.”

Jane Plumb, chief executive of Group B Strep Support, said: “It is time for change.

“More than 200 families a year could be spared the trauma of their newborn baby suffering preventable Group B Strep infection is we rolled out screening across the UK with similar results [to the pilot].”

The charity also hopes to raise awareness about the disease so that more women can make informed choices about the option of screening, which costs as little as £11.

Mrs Newton says she was unaware of the dangers of GBS before she gave birth to Emily at Colchester General Hospital in 2010.

Emily had been diagnosed with septicaemia after the GBS entered her bloodstream.

She made a full recovery and is now a healthy six-year-old attending Queen Boudica Primary School in Colchester.

“Not every child has been so lucky,” Mrs Newton said.

“I am always happy to publicise our story because every pregnant woman who reads about it could mean a baby’s life is saved.”

For more information on the Group B Strep charity visit here.

Visit here to sign the petition.

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