Group B Strep is a common bacteria found in the body that is generally harmless and symptomless. However, it is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies. Even so, many new parents only hear of it far too late when their baby becomes dangerously ill.

Babies can contract group B Strep during labour if the mother is infected or a carrier of the infection. If there are delays to treatment and antibiotics are not given as soon as possible to clear the infection, group B Strep in babies can lead to serious illnesses including pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis. This can cause long term disabilities including cerebral palsy, brain injury, serious learning disabilities, hearing or visual loss. In some cases, it can be fatal.

In the UK, antenatal care doesn’t consistently inform expectant parents about the signs and risks of group B Strep. Neither is there a routine test in pregnancy to check whether a woman is a carrier of the infection. Some pregnant women are also not aware there is a private group B Strep test available. These factors add to women not being able to make informed choices about antenatal screening, putting babies at risk of contracting a largely preventable infection.

What is group B Strep?

Group B Strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria called streptococcal that is found in the digestive system or vagina. Between 20-40 percent of women will be a carrier of GBS, but it is also common in men. GBS is usually harmless and you wouldn’t realise you had it. GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease, neither is it a sign of ill health or poor hygiene.

While GBS is not harmful to healthy adults, it can become a problem to worry about in pregnancy due to the risk to newborn babies if the infection is passed on during labour.

Have you got a group B Strep negligence claim?

Where a baby has suffered significant complications or injuries as a result of developing a group B Strep infection, some parents choose to seek legal advice and compensation to ensure the right treatment and care can be afforded throughout the duration of their child’s life.

Claims for group B Strep are usually complex cases and can be emotionally wrought for parents who may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking it further. However, a clinical negligence claim allows families who experience birth injuries such as group B Strep infection to get answers as to what went wrong, possibly receive an apology from the Hospital Trust responsible, and ensure failures are addressed to prevent the same mistakes happening again.

At Medical Solicitors, our niche law firm only handles clinical negligence claims for patients. Our specialist solicitors are compassionate and knowledgeable. We go to great lengths to fully understand a case and we offer no-obligation advice about whether there is a chance of success. If we recommend going further, we will then offer a no win no fee agreement.

As your legal partner, we’ll always keep you at the centre, supporting you and guiding you through the process. It may be that nothing could have been done to change what happened to you or your baby. But group B Strep is largely preventable and some of the failures may be found to be surrounding incorrect advice or inadequate information given before labour, the administration of antibiotics to the mother or baby, compliance with RCOG guidelines, or delays in recognising signs of a baby’s deterioration.

Compensation for group B Strep claims

Around ten percent of babies with group B Strep will have long-term disabilities such as cerebral palsy or other neurological disorders. Along with compensation for the injuries sustained, there can also be a claim for special damages (financial losses). Due to the permanent nature of the disability, this part of the compensation usually results in a substantial settlement to account for such things as life-long private care needs, adapted accommodation costs and loss of earnings as a result of not being able to work, as well as a separate award for pain and suffering.

In a little more detail, compensation for group B Strep can pay for things like speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, home adaptations, disability aids, transport to medical appointments, and any private care costs.

Disabilities caused by group B Step infections aren’t always apparent in the baby stage. A parent and healthcare providers  may only recognise developmental delay when the child is older. We work with specialists to understand the long-term prognosis of a child and what care costs may be involved both now and in the future.

All cases are handled on a personal basis and we strive to do everything we can to achieve the maximum compensation to ensure the best possible quality of life for your individual child.

If you’re considering making a claim for group B Strep negligence, you may be thinking about how you’ll fund the legal costs. We offer Conditional Fee Agreements (No Win, No Fee) so families have nothing to lose in speaking to us about a claim.

Group B Strep in pregnancy

Every month, 66 babies are diagnosed with group B Strep; 56 go on to make a full recovery, six will have long-term disabilities, and four will die.

Most cases of GBS are classified as early on-set, whereby symptoms develop in the first six days of life after GBS was passed on to baby during delivery – around one in every 1,750 pregnancies. In those cases, there is an extremely small chance (5.2%) of miscarriage or neonatal death caused by the infection.

GBS can also be late on-set, where symptoms develop up to 90 days after birth, but this is much rarer at one in every 2,700 births.

Symptoms of group B Strep in babies are:

  • Floppiness
  • Unresponsive
  • Unusually slow or fast breathing and heart rate
  • Abnormally high or low temperature
  • Blotchy or discoloured skin
  • Poor feeding
  • Irritability
  • Grunting when breathing

Risks of babies contracting group B Strep

There is an increased risk of a newborn becoming unwell due to GBS if they were born pre-term (before 37 weeks) or if the mother’s waters break 24 hours or more before the baby is born. Another risk factor is if the mother has a temperature above 38 degrees during labour.

In all these cases, IV antibiotics should be given to the mother during established labour to minimise the risk of GBS infection in the baby. Women who had GBS in a previous pregnancy should also be offered antibiotics in labour, as should those who experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) in pregnancy

In 2017, the Royal College of Gynaecologists published a major update to clinical guidelines for group B Strep which includes ensuring all pregnant women are given a leaflet about the risk and symptoms of GBS.

Group B Strep testing trial at risk of failure due to lack of NHS trusts signing up

Currently, there is no routine test in pregnancy for group B Strep and women can only take a private Enriched Culture Medium swab test when they are between 35 and 37 weeks to detect whether they are carrying the bacteria. However, if a mother has had group B Strep in a previous pregnancy, then testing should be offered in subsequent pregnancies. Failure to do this would be negligent care.

A clinical trial is planned to establish whether testing all pregnant women is better than the NHS’ current approach of assessing risk factors to determine whether a woman should be offered intravenous antibiotics during labour. However, this trial – the GBS3 Trial – is at risk of being scrapped already due to a lack of NHS trusts signing up; only 33 out of 80 hospitals needed are on board.

If this figure is not reached by the September 2022 deadline, the trial risks failure as it won’t get enough data to be useful.

Other high-income developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Spain already routinely test pregnant women for GBS. A simple test can prevent so much trauma and heartache for families.

If your hospital is not taking part, you can write to your MP and ask them to encourage the hospital’s CEO to take part in this hugely important trial.

If you would like further information about group B Strep, Group B Strep Support is a leading charity where you can find more information and where to order a Strep B test. You can also find links to support services if your family has been affected by group B Strep.

Hopefully one day, changes to antenatal care will ensure all pregnant women are routinely told about group B Strep and its risks. This will help women make informed choices about their care.

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We’ve handled many different types of medical negligence cases and provided expert advice for over 20 years.

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  • Our processes are hassle free & we handle all the paperwork
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Our surgery claims expert:

Caroline Moore

Managing Director/Head of Sheffield Office