Leading article

Opinion: Death of baby reinforces need for screening of pregnant women

Brendan Maguire and Susan Ho-Maguire outside Laganside Courts yesterday

The desperately sad death of baby Hollie Maguire has highlighted once again the dangers posed by a common infection and will reinforce calls for the health service to offer screening to pregnant women.

Baby Hollie died just 30 minutes after she was born at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast on October 26, 2016.

A postmortem examination found the cause of the infant's death was congenital pneumonia (Group B Streptococcus), widely known as GBS or Strep B, which is a bacteria carried by many pregnant women.

Most of them will have healthy babies but there is a small risk the infection will be passed on to the child during labour.

In the UK, on average two babies a day develop GBS infection, one baby a week dies from it and one baby a week survives but is left with long term disabilities.

The UK does not routinely screen for the infection but it is offered in many developed countries, including the United States where rates have been dramatically reduced.


The NHS uses risk factors to assess pregnant women, however, as the current level of deaths and serious illness shows, this is an approach that is plainly not effective enough.

Although GBS is potentially deadly, it is fair to say that awareness of this infection is not particularly high among expectant mothers nor is the fact that women can pay to be tested privately.

They may also be unaware that women who test positive can be given antibiotics in labour to reduce the chance of passing on the infection to their baby.

Hollie's dad, Brendan Maguire, is calling for expectant parents to be provided with information about the risks of GBS and given the opportunity to have a test carried out either with the NHS or privately.

Coroner Patrick McGurgan said this was not the first Strep B inquest he had dealt with 'and it won't be the last.'

The health authorities must give urgent consideration to screening pregnant women and helping to prevent avoidable loss of life.





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