A “catastrophic” decision not to specifically test pregnant women for a deadly infection is putting babies’ lives at risk, a charity has warned.
From tomorrow, doctors were due to be allowed to ask for a specific swab for group B streptococcus (GBS) for pregnant women they felt to be at risk.
However the Department of Health has decided not to approve the use of the test, a move condemned by Lindfieldbased charity Group B Strep Support.
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Jane Plumb, from Lindfield, set up the charity in 1996 following the death of her son Theo from the condition. The charity is campaigning for the specific test to be made routinely available.
A generic NHS test already in use looks for various issues in pregnancy but fails to identify GBS in 40% of cases.
GBS is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and is passed on by mothers who carry the bug to their babies.
The charity says routine testing could save the lives of 80 babies a year and stop hundreds more from developing serious complications which can lead to brain damage and limb amputation.
Mrs Plumb said: “This decision flies in the face of the government’s drive for cost-efficiency through early intervention and prevention and totally ignores patient choice.
"All we want, and what women and their health professionals want is that, when a swab for GBS is taken, health professionals should be able to access a good quality test that’s fit for purpose.
“This was to be introduced from January 1, 2014, but now, under the cover of Christmas, it has been cancelled.
“This decision leaves us way behind other developed countries.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “No mothers or their families should have to experience the pain and loss that this devastating infection can bring.
“Following a meeting with the Group B Strep support group in December 2012, ministers and the chief medical officer agreed that Public Health England should independently investigate the availability of the enriched culture medium test and the clinical indications for its use.
“This work has now concluded, and found that there is no indication for testing high-risk women using ECM methods within current clinical guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and therefore it would be clinically inappropriate to make this test routinely available.”