Elizabeth Smith, Head of our Medical Negligence team, discusses group B Strep infection, her shocking experience with seeking to be tested for the infection during pregnancy and the incredible work Group B Strep Support do to raise awareness to the infection to not only mothers, but health professionals too.
As a mother myself raising awareness of group B Strep is a cause that is close to my heart. When I had my daughter nearly 17 years ago I had never heard of group B Strep. However, by the time I had my son some years later I had been acting for clients in medical negligence claims for many years and had experienced, through my clients, the devastating impact that this infection can have on new born babies who can be left with severe disabilities caused by sepsis or meningitis arising from the infection, resulting in loss of limbs or cerebral palsy, as well as the effect that their injuries have on their families. Sadly in a number of cases which I had been involved in, my clients lost their babies as a result of the infection.
Through my work I had more knowledge about group B Strep than a lot of pregnant women, many of whom have never heard of the condition until after they are told that their baby has contracted the infection. I knew that the statistics show that every day a baby develops group B Strep infection, every week a baby dies from group B Strep infection and that every week a baby who recovers from their group B Strep infection is left with life long disability, with half the survivors of group B Strep meningitis left blind, deaf or with physical or learning disabilities. I knew the loss that my clients had experienced, at what was supposed to be one of the happiest moments of their lives, and I saw the mothers I acted for wrongly blaming themselves for their child’s injuries.
I also knew that if I was tested for group B Strep and was a carrier that my baby was at risk of developing the infection but that this risk could be minimised by administering IV antibiotics to me during the labour, and monitoring my baby after the birth and administering antibiotics to my baby if appropriate.
I was fortunate in that I had knowledge of group B Strep and as a result, during my pregnancy with my son, I specifically asked my midwife for the simple test which I knew could diagnose whether I was a carrier. I knew that this test wasn’t routinely available on the NHS and I had already located, and purchased, a testing kit; I simply needed my midwife to take a vaginal and rectal swab so that I could send it off to the laboratory.
I was amazed that when I raised this with my midwife I was told that the test wasn’t necessary and she questioned why I wanted it performed. Despite talking to my midwife for a long time about what I knew about group B Strep she was extremely reluctant to perform the test, instead informing me that she needed to speak to our local hospital to see if there was any point!
Sadly my midwife seemed to know very little about group B Strep and the consequences of untreated and undiagnosed group B Strep and she simply kept telling me that it wasn’t something that the NHS routinely tested for. I persevered and pushed for the test yet to this day I don’t know whether my midwife would have agreed to undertake the swab. My midwife actually retired during the course of my pregnancy and when I spoke with my new midwife she was more than happy to perform the swab for me. She had actually just completed a work placement in our local hospital and told me that she had been treating babies infected with group B Strep and I am convinced that it was because of this that she was so willing to help me.
I knew about group B Strep, specifically wanted to be tested for it, and had purchased a private testing kit yet still came up against resistance from my midwife. That is why I think the work that Group B Strep Support do is vital in raising awareness, not only promoting awareness amongst patients but also medical professionals, contributing to UK health guidelines and working with relevant bodies on national guidance.
Sadly the parents who come to me after their baby has suffered devastating injuries after a group B Strep infection, or who have lost their baby as a result of the infection are those that in my opinion have been let down twice. Firstly, if routine testing was available mum being a carrier of group B Strep could have been diagnosed and the risk of her baby developing group B Strep infection minimised with IV antibiotics and secondly, the health professionals should have been more alert to signs of infection, prompting an earlier diagnosis and treatment of the infection in the newborn.
If you or your baby have experienced medical errors during your pregnancy, labour or shortly after your baby’s birth which may have resulted in serious injury and would like to discuss this with me, with no obligation then please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01752 292309.
Partner, Chartered Legal Executive, Head of Medical Negligence Department