SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to introduce a UK-wide Group B Streptococcus (GBS) screening programme, including in Derry and throughout the North, which would prevent newborn babies becoming seriously ill and dying from the rare but deadly infection.
Mr Durkan met the Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter in January after tabling a parliamentary motion last year calling for all levels of government to embrace the case for screening.
He has also supported the local campaign to raise awareness of the life-threatening infection by taking part in the walk of Derry’s two bridges in memory of baby Grace McGroarty.
Speaking during yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Durkan said: “As a Back Bencher, the Prime Minister campaigned for group B strep awareness.
“I am sure that he is aware of Northwick Park hospital’s highly successful programme of universal GBS screening, which proves the very case that he used to make.
“Will he now encourage Ministers to roll out GBS-specific testing as a routine offer to all pregnant women in all our health services?”
David Cameron replied: “May I say how grateful I am to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue?
“Two of my constituents, Craig and Alison Richards, came to my surgery and raised it with me, and that is what caused me to become interested in it in the first place.
“We have made some big breakthroughs. The National Health Service is doing much more screening and taking much more action to help those who potentially have the infection, although there are difficulties with national programmes because of the whole issue of anti-microbial resistance and the use of antibiotics.
“However, I am happy to take this opportunity to look into what has been achieved so far and what more can be done, and then write to the hon. Gentleman.”
Mr Durkan added: “I am deeply concerned that the reported incidence of Group B Streptococcus infection in newborn babies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland increased by 32% between 2003 and 2010.
“GBS infection is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, with Northern Ireland unfortunately leading that statistic.
“Without preventative action, 1 in 1,000 newborn babies per year will develop GBS infection, of whom approximately 75 will die and 40 will survive with long-term problems.
“Where screening programmes have been introduced, including in the United States, Spain, Australia and France, reported cases of GBS infection in newborn babies have fallen by 86%, 86%, 82% and 71% respectively.
“Indeed, I will be continuing to support this important campaign aimed at encouraging all levels of government to embrace the case for screening and make a good change happen.”