The UK National Screening Committee is reviewing the evidence for screening for group B streptococcus carriage in pregnant women, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear about that. The committee will review the international literature, and a public consultation on the results will open in spring 2012.
Group B streptococcus is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection for newborn babies. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and Group B Strep Support, the excellent campaign group, to see how calls for a national screening programme might best be advanced?
I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend. I should point out that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is updating its guidelines and that NICE is also developing guidance. The issue is complex, however, and even testing is not 100% effective. Women who produce a positive result during pregnancy might be negative during labour and, more importantly, those who are negative during pregnancy might be positive during labour. It is important that we get the most up-to-date evidence and ensure that we reduce the tragic consequences of this infection.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, but may I urge her to consider carefully the kind of testing, as the false negatives and positives to which she refers come with the current testing and there are better tests? About 340 babies are affected every year of which one in 10 dies and one in five is permanently disabled. This is a very serious matter and I hope she will do all she can to deal with it.
I will certainly do all I can to deal with it. As the right hon. Lady says, the consequences are tragic but this is a complex area that has changed quite rapidly. I think the US is now at a similar level of infection to us, but what remains a challenge is ensuring that we have an effective test that does not produce false positive or, more seriously, false negative results and that we have effective treatment that works in 100% of cases.