Politicians unite to call for Group B Strep screening for all Northern Ireland women

Group B Strep is the most serious form of infection in newborn babies.
Group B Strep is the most serious form of infection in newborn babies.

Politicians have united in Northern Ireland to call for group B Strep screening for all pregnant women, highlighting that it is “unacceptable that a baby born in Northern Ireland has a higher chance of developing a group B Strep infection than a baby born elsewhere”.

A cross-party letter has been sent today to Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride and Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of Department of Health and Chief Executive of Health and Social Care NI, signed by Mark H Durkan MLA, SDLP, Michelle Gildernew MP, Sinn Fein, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, DUP, Naomi Long MLA & MEP, Alliance and Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of charity Group B Strep Support.

The letter is in response to the death of Hollie Maguire, who died shortly after her birth at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on 26 October 2016 from congenital pneumonia, caused by group B Strep. At the close of the inquest on 5 June 2019, Hollie’s parents, Brendan Maguire and Susan Maguire from Dunmurry, warned other mothers-to-be to take a simple test for the bacteria.

Brendan Maguire said: “I’m so pleased to see the political parties united in support of group B Strep screening. Nothing can bring Hollie back, but if Northern Ireland introduced routine screening, other babies like Hollie would be protected and other families wouldn’t have to go through the heartbreak we have.”

The cross-party letter states that, while Northern Ireland has made significant steps forward in its prevention of group B Strep infection, improvements are possible, noting “in America, Canada, France, Germany or Italy, Mrs Maguire would have been tested to see if she was carrying group B Strep bacteria and offered antibiotics in labour, which would very likely have prevented Hollie’s infection.”

Group B Strep is the most common cause of serious infection in newborn babies in the UK, and one of the leading causes of neonatal pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis. On average, two babies each day in the UK develop a group B Strep infection and each week, one baby dies from a group B Strep infection and another is left with a life changing disability.

Around one in four pregnant women carry group B Strep and the bacteria may be passed unknowingly from a mother to her baby around birth.

Most group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be prevented by testing mothers late in pregnancy and providing intravenous antibiotics during labour to those who test positive. This reduces the risk of a baby developing a group B Strep infection by up to 90 per cent. The test would cost the NHS just £11 and costs from £35 privately.

Group B Strep Support founder and Chief Executive, Jane Plumb MBE, said: “We are delighted to see cross-party support for the introduction of routine antenatal screening for group B Strep in Northern Ireland. As the letter says, important progress has been made but introducing routine antenatal screening would prevent more babies suffering and dying from avoidable group B Strep infections, and saving future families from avoidable misery.”