Baby Loss

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:17 pm on 13th October 2016.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 12:17 pm, 13th October 2016

I certainly agree, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for talking to me last night. I look forward to working with him on this terrible illness and to joining him to present the petition when it comes along.

I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State—he is not only my hon. Friend, but a real friend—who will be responding to debate, that what I have to say is not meant in any disrespectful way to him, but I have what can only be described as “issues” with the Department of Health about this matter. I have made representations on the issue to Governments of both complexions, and it has been an uphill, pretty unrewarding and generally lowering experience. Since the time of an Adjournment debate introduced by the previous Prime Minister, the former Member for Witney, on 9 July 2003, I have dealt with five Ministers, all of whom have promised prompt action and progress, all of which has been unacceptably slow, for reasons that I, the charity, the families involved and mothers to be would find pretty hard to understand in any objective examination.

The campaign has been pushing since 2003 for the enriched culture medium test to be made available, and I would like my hon. Friend to note that the Government committed to making the ECM test available on the NHS from 1 January 2014, following a meeting we had with the then Minister, my hon. Friend Dr Poulter, and the chief medical officer in December 2012, only to make a complete U-turn on the decision in the final weeks of 2013. Despite these setbacks and the dismal pattern of indecision, I want to congratulate Group B Strep Support on all that it has achieved to raise awareness of this terrible, unnecessary infection since its founding in 1996, and to ensure that the issue is at least on the agenda among the key decision makers, even if they do nothing about it.

The charity has one overarching objective: to eradicate group B strep infection in newborn babies. To achieve that objective, which is frankly military in its clarity and precision, the charity informs and supports families affected by group B strep, educates the relevant health professionals and pushes for improvements. The charity has virtually single-handedly raised awareness of group B strep from virtually nothing to a position where one in 10 new and expectant mothers had heard of it in 2006, and five in 10 new and expectant mothers had heard of it in 2015. Amazingly, the NHS does not routinely provide information about group B strep as part of standard antenatal care, which makes that a significant achievement for a small charity. The charity has covered for an inexplicable shortcoming on the part of the NHS.

From the very start, Group B Strep Support has pushed for improvement to policy and practice, and it has done an extraordinarily good job. It is my view that the reason for the shortcoming is a fundamental disagreement between doctors, and we all know what that means. It is not clear to me why Ministers do not simply override this and order the test, which would save lives, and spare the tragedy and agony of those involved. I know that the Government say that they are committed to finding a way forward, but it is taking them a very long time to get there, and neither I nor the charity are one bit satisfied by the progress. When my hon. Friend the Minister winds up the debate, will he particularly mention group strep B and give us some hope that that cause will be considered?

The most wonderful young constituent of mine, an adorable girl aged 14 named Emily McStravik, came to see me at my surgery 10 days ago with her mother. Emily is a miracle child who survived two strokes at the age of 18 months. I shall be sending my hon. Friend the details of Emily’s case and the wider case for dealing with childhood stroke, which needs to achieve greater prominence and understanding. Stroke is one of the top 10 reasons why children die, and an alarming number of children who have had a stroke are misdiagnosed or sent home. There is no greater honour or privilege that Members of Parliament can have than to raise on the Floor of the House a child’s story and talk about her remarkable courage and survival. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would examine carefully the information that I will be sending him from Emily and her family.