We are sometimes asked if we provide grants towards part or all of the cost of the private enriched culture medium (ECM) test for group B Strep carriage. This isn’t something we do, or are currently planning to do.
We thought we’d share how we reached our current position. It’s something we have discussed since the charity’s founding in 1996. The Board of Trustees, along with the charity’s Chief Executive and staff, have all had the opportunity to share their views on the issue.
Our concerns about using the charity’s funds to pay for tests can be broken down into three main areas.
Improving care for everyone
We believe that as a routine part of antenatal care in the NHS, all pregnant women should be informed about group B Strep and all should be given the opportunity to have a GBS-specific test to see if they’re carrying the bacteria or not. At present, the NHS does neither of these things.
We campaign for improvements for all pregnant women – paying for sensitive GBS tests for some pregnant women would reduce the resources we’d be able to commit to campaigning for all to be offered a sensitive GBS test through the NHS.
Our priority is to improve care for everyone – so that all pregnant women are offered GBS-specific testing within the NHS.
Making the biggest difference
Secondly, we want to use the charity’s funds where they’ll make the biggest difference.
We worked with Bounty’s Word of Mum research panel last year to help us see where to focus our efforts. That research found that 94% of women would take a GBS specific test in pregnancy if offered for free on the NHS. It also found that only one in every four women said they could not afford to pay approximately £35 for the test.
The research also found that only one in every two women had heard of group B Strep. While this is a fantastic increase of nearly 400% since 2006 (when only one in every ten women had heard of GBS), it also means we need to reach the half of the pregnant population who don’t know about group B Strep.
Put together, this tells us that:
- Almost half of all pregnant women have not heard of group B Strep
- Most of those who have heard of GBS can afford to pay £35 for the private test
- Almost all pregnant women would take the test if it were available on the NHS
Until GBS specific testing is routinely available within the NHS, we will focus on raising awareness and providing information so that every mum-to-be has high-quality information on group B Strep, including that GBS-specific testing is available privately. Only if she is informed can she make an informed choice about what is right for her and her family. To achieve this, we need to reach the women who haven’t yet heard of group B Strep.
Best possible value for money
Despite punching way above its weight, the charity is really quite small. We’re currently a team of three paid part-time staff, plus some lovely office volunteers. We’re medically and financially independent and are mainly reliant on donations and fundraising from generous individuals, organisations and trusts. We are very careful about spending the charity’s money – we want to get the best possible value out of every penny given and to target those funds to where the need is greatest.
Paying for tests would be very expensive. The cost of a private test starts at around £35 for the home testing services, rising to around £200 for those done at private clinics.
Even at the lower end of this range, £5,000 pays for just 140 tests.
£5,000 could also pay to print 100,000 information leaflets, containing vital information to help parents protect their baby from group B Strep infection.
So essentially we have to choose between:
- 140 tests for families who already know about group B Strep (they wouldn’t be getting a test if they didn’t)
- 100,000 leaflets introducing new and expectant parents to group B Strep and explaining how they can help protect their baby
In 2013, we surveyed midwives – just over four in every ten midwives felt they did not have adequate information on group B Strep, and five in every ten said they didn’t feel well informed enough to talk about GBS to families in their care.
We know that most GBS infections develop in babies where the parents have not heard of group B Strep – because when you know about GBS you can take action to protect your baby – so there’s a clear need to be reaching these midwives and the women in their care with high-quality information on group B Strep.
So, to conclude, we have examined the issue in detail and do not believe that paying for ECM tests is the best way of using the charity’s funds effectively and efficiently.
Ever since the charity was founded in 1996, our aim has been to eradicate group B Strep infections in babies. That aim remains the same, and informs everything we do – this is why we press for better prevention strategies, for more research into the bacteria and possible vaccines, and for better information for health professionals and parents.
At the heart of the charity is a vision of a UK free from group B Strep infection in babies. We’ve come a long way since 1996, but there’s still a way to go.
We believe the best way forward for the UK is to ensure that every pregnant woman is given information on group B Strep as a routine part of her antenatal care, and offered the opportunity to have a sensitive test for GBS carriage late in pregnancy. Ultimately, we want GBS infections in babies to be eradicated.
If you agree with us, please sign up to our #WhyGuess campaign which aims to make GBS specific testing easily available on the NHS, and improve group B Strep prevention for everyone.