The Scottish Government is given independent advice by the United Kingdom national screening committee. In November 2012, the NSC undertook a review of the policy for group B streptococcus, using all the available medical evidence on the risks and benefits of screening all pregnant women. The committee agreed that a national screening programme for group B streptococcus should not be introduced. The NSC will continue to keep screening for group B streptococcus under review, and will consider the policy again in 2015-16—or earlier, if significant new evidence emerges.
It is estimated that, in the United Kingdom, 340 babies will develop early-onset GBS infection each year, and one in 10 will die. I hear what the cabinet secretary says with regard to the fact that the decision has been taken and the issue will be kept under review. However, routine testing for streptococcus B is carried out in America and Australia.
Given that a test costs approximately £15, will the cabinet secretary at least consider whether NHS Scotland should offer the option of a test to pregnant women, to ensure that no other family has to endure the loss of their baby from streptococcus B? Will the cabinet secretary meet me and the baby’s parents to discuss the matter?
The concerns that the NCS raised regarding screening of all pregnant women followed the submission of many hundreds of pages of evidence, as well as consultation of experts and the clinical community throughout the UK. Its conclusion was that national screening would not prevent all deaths and disability from EOGBS. The potential harm that could be caused by administration of antibiotics to many thousands of pregnant women was a major factor in its decision, given the very low risk of harm from the disease.
The NCS has considered the matter in a great deal of detail. The balance came down in favour of not screening all women, because that would not be appropriate.
I am obviously happy to meet Margaret McDougall to discuss the issue and to fill her in on any more details that would be helpful to her and her constituents.