Pregnant women and people receiving their maternity care from University Hospitals Plymouth will become the first in the UK to be routinely offered a test for group B Streptococcus (GBS), as part of an important new research study.
The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme and sponsored by the University of Nottingham, seeks to evaluate whether testing pregnant women to see if they carry GBS reduces the risk of infection in newborn babies, and therefore is more effective than the current risk factor based strategy in place in the UK.
“Many women have been campaigning to have this test made routine on the NHS for years,” explains Heidi Hollands, Senior Research Midwife at UHP. “So the fact that the women we care for will now have this opportunity is incredibly important to all of us.”
In the UK, approximately one in four pregnant women carry GBS, a common bacteria that normally causes no harm, in their vagina and rectum (back passage). If a woman carries GBS, her baby may be exposed to it during labour and birth and become colonised with the bacteria. Although most babies who are exposed to GBS remain well, there is a very small chance of a baby becoming seriously ill or even dying. In order to reduce these risks, women with GBS are offered intravenous antibiotics throughout their labour and during birth.
Midwives in the UK currently identify pregnant women who may be at risk of their baby developing a GBS infection using a checklist of risk factors. As part of this new trial, women will be tested using a swab sample, which will be taken at around three to five weeks before their expected due date. It is hoped that this routine testing will greatly improve the accuracy of identifying women with GBS and therefore decrease the risk to their babies, as well as to reduce the amount of antibiotics administered unnecessarily.
The trial, which is being managed by the University of Nottingham Clinical Trials Unit, has allocated University Hospitals Plymouth to begin offering testing to pregnant women routinely for GBS. The study is being supported locally by the NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula.
“The fact that Plymouth women will be the first to benefit from this study is a real testament to the brilliant team effort here at UHP; from the seamless processes within our Research and Development department, to the engagement of our hospital laboratory team, as well as of course our passionate midwifery team throughout the community,” adds Alexander Taylor, Principal Investigator for the study at UHP. “We are really pleased to be the first hospital to offer testing for this trial, and look forward to learning whether it is as beneficial to our women as we hope it will be.”
Kate, who lives in Saltash and is 36 weeks pregnant, was one of the first women to be offered the test. She said: “If this test can prevent babies from developing potentially life-threatening illnesses, it is certainly worthwhile. It was very quick and easy to do – there is nothing to be anxious or frightened about. I’m really impressed that the midwives here in Plymouth are pioneering something that is going to be beneficial to all women in the UK.”
Ashton from Plymouth, who is 38 weeks pregnant, adds: “The midwives here are absolutely amazing and I feel very fortunate to have been one of the first women to benefit from this test routinely on the NHS. I know they want to help us and that’s why they’re doing this, which is brilliant. My midwife was really informative about the test and so it wasn’t daunting at all.”
The study aims to assess a total of 320,000 pregnant women throughout 80 different hospital maternity units across the UK. Each hospital will be randomised to different elements of the study. For further information about the study, please visit: https://www.gbs3trial.ac.uk/home.aspx