Why won’t Britain act to prevent biggest killer of newborns? The £10 test that could save babies from death
When Sarah Campbell’s waters broke six weeks before her due date, she convinced herself that her baby son must be ready for the world. And when, eight hours later, Ewan was delivered by emergency Caesarean apparently healthy and a good weight, Sarah and husband Adam, 45, a headteacher, felt reassured.
‘We were so happy, Adam and I couldn’t stop smiling,’ she says. Immediately after delivery, Ewan was briefly laid on his mother’s chest. It was the only time Sarah held her baby — for just eight hours after his birth, Ewan died.
Unknown to his parents or doctors, he had picked up the potentially fatal group B streptococcus infection from his mother.
‘The doctors said they needed to take him to the special care baby unit only because he’d been born early,’ says Sarah, 34, a teacher from Kempston, Bedfordshire. ‘They said if he fed OK, I’d be able to have him on the ward with me the following morning.’
Four hours after their son’s birth, Adam headed home at 3am to get some rest. He never had the chance to hold his son. ‘We thought we had all the time in the world for cuddles,’ says Sarah.
Shortly afterwards, a nurse told Sarah that Ewan was having problems breathing. She said it was to be expected because of his prematurity, but returned minutes later with some laminated photographs of him.
Sarah was still clutching the photographs a couple of hours later when a doctor came to tell her Ewan wasn’t ‘doing very well’ and the paediatric consultant had been called.
‘I was desperate to see my son but, because of the Caesarean, I couldn’t stand or even sit in a wheelchair, so they wheeled my hospital bed to the special care baby unit.
‘There was a team working on Ewan and someone said: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to be here right now.” I was wheeled back to the ward.’ Just before 7am, Sarah was bundled into a wheelchair and rushed down to special care. ‘Ewan was being hand-ventilated and was wired up to different monitors. ‘The paediatric consultant uttered the words no parent wants to hear: “There’s nothing more we can do for him.”
‘I couldn’t even see my son’s face, just his blue woollen hat,’ says Sarah. ‘It’s hard to put into words the pain we felt at losing our first child without ever having experienced the joy of getting to know him. It was like someone ripping out our hearts.’
Tragically, Ewan’s death could easily have been prevented with a simple £10 test.
Group B streptococcus is the biggest killer of newborn babies in Britain, yet we are one of the few developed countries not to screen for the infection. A third of women carry the bacterium, which is largely harmless to adults.
It’s thought it may be contracted through eating beef or fish, though skin-to-skin transmission is more likely.
However, because of their immature immune systems, the bug’s effect on babies can be devastating. One in 300 exposed to it will develop the infection. Spotting it early and treatment with antibiotics during labour or in the first few hours after childbirth can be life-saving and yet every year the infection kills 30 newborns. Another 200 are left with disabilities, including cerebral palsy and blindness.
These tragedies could be avoided, says Professor Philip Steer, an obstetrician at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London.
‘Group B strep is a big risk for newborn babies. Most professionals are aware of it, so antibiotics are often given as a precaution when, for example, a mother’s waters break more than 18 hours before delivery or if she develops a fever during labour.’
However, women carrying the bacterium often don’t have any symptoms because it lives in the bowel without causing problems. ‘This means there are many women who have no idea they are carriers until their babies become infected and then it’s too late,’ says Professor Steer.
‘For their sake, I think all mothers-to-be should be given a screening swab in the latter weeks of pregnancy, then they can decide whether to have antibiotics during labour.’
Previously, the UK National Screening Committee has ruled against rolling out a national screening programme on the grounds that the test used by the NHS is unreliable and could lead to pregnant women being given antibiotics unnecessarily. The concern is that antibiotics interfere with the development of a healthy baby’s immune system, increasing the risk of asthma and other allergies.
However, the committee is due to review the decision this year and campaigners hope the availability of a new, more sensitive test for the bacterium will make them change their minds.
The current NHS test picks up around half of carriers; the new Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) test has a 90 per cent accuracy rate, says Jane Plumb, of charity Group B Strep Support. At present, the ECM test is only available privately for £35 — it’s estimated it would cost the NHS just £10.63 per pregnant woman.
‘Since introducing national screening with these more sensitive tests, the U.S., Australia, France and Spain have seen an average 80 per cent fall in the number of newborns contracting group B strep,’ says Jane Plumb. ‘What further evidence does our Government need that a national screening programme here would save babies from death and disability?’
Professor Steer agrees: ‘The ECM test, the gold standard test for group B strep, has been a great success in other countries, so there is no reason why we wouldn’t see the same results here. ‘It should be offered to all women who want the chance to protect their babies 35 to 37 weeks into pregnancy.
‘Women who test positive should be offered penicillin, which will target group B strep without killing off other bacteria that might be helpful to a baby’s developing immune system.’
Sarah had heard of group B strep infection through a friend, and even asked during labour to be tested for it, but had no idea it could be fatal. ‘The midwife took a swab: the results came back positive two days later. But by then it was too late — Ewan had died.’ The results of a post-mortem examination a couple of weeks later confirmed a group B strep infection had been the cause of his death.
‘At first, I felt relieved to discover it was this, rather than a genetic condition, which had killed our son,’ says Sarah. ‘At least it would be preventable if we had another baby. But that was quickly followed by fury — a simple dose of antibiotics would have saved my son’s life.’
When Sarah missed a period four months after Ewan’s death, it was several weeks until she could face taking a pregnancy test.
‘I knew that having another baby was the only thing that would give us the strength to begin to rebuild our lives, but I was terrified that a tragedy might happen again.’ Sarah was closely monitored throughout her pregnancy and given antibiotics before the birth of her healthy baby girl, Lorna, in 2010. Then, in January this year, the Campbells welcomed another healthy child, a boy called Scott.
‘For a long time I blamed myself for what happened to Ewan because he picked up the infection from me,’ says Sarah. ‘People tried to reassure me it wasn’t my fault — there was no reason for me to know I had group B strep.
‘We’ll do all we can to raise awareness of this condition and continue lobbying MPs until a national screening programme is introduced. That way our son’s death won’t have been in vain.’
Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, told the Mail: ‘We welcome all research that will assist our next review in the hope that more effective screening and treatment methods can be made available. ‘Losing a child in this way is a tragedy.’
Nurses: We’ve no time to talk to older patients because shortage of qualified staff is ‘compromising care’ on wards
Three out of four nurses say they have no time to talk to older hospital patients and many are so rushed they can’t help them to eat, a report warns.
Lack of qualified nurses is jeopardising safe care for the elderly on wards which are still dominated by age discrimination, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Its report says the over-65s are more likely than other hospital patients to be in the hands of healthcare assistants.
Typically, one registered nurse is expected to look after nine elderly patients who may be frail, acutely ill and have complex medical needs.
The RCN is calling for a new deal on nurse numbers to ensure the elderly are properly looked after, with at least one nurse for seven patients and two-thirds of staff being registered nurses.
At present, there is a 50:50 split of registered nurses and healthcare assistants (HCAs) on wards for the elderly which, coupled with staff shortages, is said to be putting patients at risk. The report says: ‘On older people’s wards that have fewer registered nurses than others, more episodes of missed or compromised care are reported.
‘Often there is simply not enough time and skill to satisfactorily deliver activities such as comforting and talking with patients.’
The report, based on a survey of 1,700 nurses including 240 working on NHS wards for older people, found more than three-quarters said lack of time meant they could not comfort or talk to patients, or could only do so ‘inadequately’.
One-third were too pushed to help patients eat or drink, and a similar proportion could not help patients use the toilet.
Almost two-thirds were too rushed to promote mobility and self care, and one in six were too busy to care for dying patients. Nurses often had too little time to supervise HCAs properly, said the RCN, which has previously criticised the NHS for being too reliant on less-qualified staff.
Things they’re too busy for
RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: ‘Patients on older people’s wards are being let down by systemic failings in our hospitals. It is unacceptable that there are not enough nurses on older people’s wards.’
The RCN’s research reveals average staffing levels of one registered nurse for nine older people which compares with 6.7 patients per nurse on adult general wards, and 4.2 on children’s wards.
The RCN says basic, safe care needs one registered nurse per seven elderly patients and, ideally, one between five and seven. It recommends a ratio of 65 per cent nurses to 35 per cent HCAs.
But Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: ‘Mandatory staffing levels cannot guarantee safe care.’
And Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, said: ‘We know that in too many cases, older people on NHS wards have been let down by poor care. The answer, however, lies in tackling a complex range of issues in areas like culture, values and styles of leadership.’
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: ‘The ratio of nurses to beds is already improving. We know from Care Quality Commission inspections that good nurse leadership on the ward is essential to delivering high-quality care.
‘Through the Nursing and Care Quality Forum, we are working with the RCN and others to make sure that more nurse time is freed up for frontline care.’
Homeopathy is worthless… says an expert in the subject as he claims it is unethical to prescribe treatments on NHS
Homeopathic potions do not work and it is unethical to give them on the NHS, a leading scientist has claimed. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine, also described the logic behind homeopathy as bizarre and accused homeopaths of lying to their patients.
The NHS spends around £4million a year on homeopathy, despite calls from the British Medical Association for the funding to end.
The discipline – which has won the backing of Prince Charles – claims to prevent and treat diseases by using dilute forms of materials that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition.
Homeopaths also believe that the greater the dilution of the medicine, the more potent the potion, and so ingredients are mixed in tiny amounts with water or alcohol.
A typical remedy could have one part of an ingredient to one trillion, trillion parts of water. Although scientists argue the potions are so dilute they are unlikely to contain any of the original substance, homeopaths claim the water retains a ‘memory’ of the active ingredient, which it passes to the body to help fight the illness.
But Professor Ernst said that even if an ultra-dilute homeopathic solution was somehow different from pure water, this would not make it an effective drug.
Writing in the Society of Biology’s magazine, The Biologist, he said: ‘How would this difference explain positive health benefits? The water in my kitchen sink also differs from pure water after the washing up but this does not mean it is good for my health.’
Professor Ernst, a former homeopath who now researches complementary medicine at Exeter University, said the treatments could be dangerous if people chose them over conventional medicines with proven benefits. He accused homeopaths who cite studies showing the treatments work of ‘cherry-picking’ results.
However, the professor saved his most scathing criticism for the Government. He said if a homeopath doesn’t tell a patient that the treatment is worthless, he is not telling the truth. Modern medical ethics state that patients must be fully informed and telling lies to patients is not acceptable. ‘It follows that the Government’s decision to continue offering homeopathy on the NHS is not ethical.’
The Commons science and technology committee recently criticised state funding of the treatments, saying it conferred scientific legitimacy.
Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: ‘The UK spends literally billions of pounds every year ensuring that the new and existing conventional medicines we take are effective, safe and fit for purpose. ‘It makes no sense to allow other treatments through public expenditure to be made available without application of the same standards.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatment, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances, which may include complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.’ He said that in 2010 around 0.001 per cent of the overall drugs bill was spent on prescriptions for homeopathic medicines.
British Liberals block move to name the father on all birth certificates
Radical changes to the law to require fathers’ names to be included on birth certificates are being blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
Conservative ministers say unmarried mothers trying to cut a father out of a child’s life should be forced to acknowledge his role, with men given a right to insist upon a paternity test if they resist.
Meanwhile, they say, feckless fathers who refuse to be named on a birth certificate should – like mothers who decline to name a father – be liable for a fine, expected to be £200.
The plan is backed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who says fathers should have both a right and a responsibility to be formally acknowledged by the state.
He believes the move is a vital part of addressing a crisis in responsible parenting by fathers and increasing the rights of men in family law.
But in the latest coalition row, senior Lib Dems, including Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, are understood to be objecting to the move and refusing to agree to it being implemented – even though the necessary legislation is already on the statute book.
Currently, 50,000 women a year choose to leave the space for the father’s name on a birth certificate blank.
Conservative ministers believe children should have the ‘security’ of being formally acknowledged by both their mother and father.
Making it a legal responsibility for new fathers to register births jointly with mothers would also make it easier to settle disputes over child maintenance, they argue.
The change in the law, which was initiated by Labour and is now on the statute book, would cut both ways. Fathers who do not want to be named on a birth certificate would – like mothers who refuse to name a father – be breaking the law and be liable for a financial penalty.
In 1964 around 65,000 children were born outside marriage in Britain. In 2005 the figure was around 275,000 – and every year 50,000 UK children have the father’s name left blank on their birth certificate.
Under the change in the law, mothers would have to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to be allowed to leave off a father’s name. A GP or social worker would have to corroborate a claim of domestic violence or abuse that could mean a woman or child would be put in danger by naming the father. Children born as a result of rape or sperm donation would also not have to have a father’s name included.
The necessary amendments have already been made to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Children Act 1989 relating to how parental responsibility is acquired by unmarried fathers.
Government sources, however, said the Lib Dems are objecting to the plan. The party is said to have expressed concern that the system would tar some children permanently by associating them with undesirable fathers, as well as undermining the rights of new mothers to make their own decisions about whether or not to acknowledge paternity.
‘Sarah Teather is the main block to this,’ said one. ‘Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions have expressed support for this policy, but to no avail.’
British parents told son is a health and safety risk because he’s TOO TALL for nursery and will wear out equipment faster than smaller toddlers
The adoring parents of a two-year-old were horrified when they were told their son was a health and safety risk because he is too tall.
Staff at the Jolly Roger Adventure play centre in Swindon, Wiltshire, said Dylan and Amanda Sparks would have to pay extra for son Oliver to attend the nursery because he is 3ft 3ins (100cm) tall. Managers said that, at five-and-a-half inches (14cm) above the average height for a child his age, Oliver would ‘wear out equipment faster’ than the other toddlers.
Mrs Sparks, 24, was told that she would have to pay a full child price of £3.60 for Oliver instead of the under-four admission fee of £2.20.
The youngster’s angry parents have hit back at the play centre, saying their son was being discriminated against because he had grown slightly faster than most children his age.
Dylan, 30, said: ‘Ollie is tall for his age but, because he is asthmatic, he has had to take steroids from a young age which has probably made him grow a bit quicker. ‘To me it just seems like complete discrimination against my son for being tall.
‘He is only two so he is definitely still a toddler. I would say you probably stop being a toddler at about four years old, when you start school. ‘They go there almost every week and he even had his second birthday party there last year.
‘On their latest visit, Amanda went to pay the normal toddler price and was told she would have to pay more.
‘She paid it because she didn’t want Ollie to know she was disappointed because he was so excited. But when they queried it afterwards with the manager they were told, “If you have a tall child then it is just tough”.’
Mr Sparks emailed the management team the same day and was told that the decision had been made for health and safety reasons. He added: ‘It’s not really about the price, it is more about the attitude that we have been given.’
A friend’s daughter, who is one month younger than Oliver, was able to enter as a toddler.
Mrs Sparks said: ‘Last time we measured him he was about 100cm tall, so he is quite tall for his age, but he does have these steroids, and I am quite tall too. ‘When they measured him he just came right up to the line, but that was because his hair was all spiked up.
‘It just seems unfair when my friend’s daughter, who is just a month younger than Oliver, is classed as a toddler.
‘He can still play in the toddler area once he is inside because that is done on age, but the price is done on height, which doesn’t seem fair to me.’
On the Jolly Roger website it states that the toddlers’ area is exclusively for children under four years old or 95cm in height. Oliver will not be three for another two months, but already exceeds the specified height by 5cm.
Manager John Bolton said: ‘We do go by height at Jolly Roger – a bigger child would wear the equipment out quicker than a smaller child would.
‘But if an older child wants to play with their younger brother or sister in the toddler area then we wouldn’t stop this, as we want the children to be happy and play together, so we can mix and match. ‘We would never stop friends playing together because of their height – that is not what we are about.
‘We try to be as accommodating as we can and make the play areas as safe as possible.’
Work experience is key to gaining a place on top British university courses
State school pupils could be missing out on places at top universities because they are not doing enough work experience, a study suggests.
Work placements are seen as essential or desirable for large numbers of prestigious courses at Russell Group universities, particularly medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.
But state school pupils are less likely than those from independent schools to undertake such placements, the Manchester University study found.
Researchers found university applications from independent school pupils drew on 55 per cent more examples of work experience than those from state school pupils, and the nature of the work was also different.
State school candidates were more likely to cite unskilled work, such as Saturday jobs, than a placement or internship, while independent school pupils were six times more likely than their state school counterparts to cite work ‘experiences’ instead.
Dr Steven Jones, who conducted the research, said debates on university access must ‘recognise that independent school applicants are at an advantage because they have both access to high quality placements and the know-how to exploit it in their personal statement’.
Dr Jones studied admissions requirements at the Russell Group of leading universities and found that work experience was desirable for all veterinary science courses, 91 per cent of dentistry, 88 per cent of medicine, 37 per cent of law courses, 28 per cent of engineering courses and 21 per cent of business and economics courses.
Presenting the findings at a seminar staged by the Education and Employers Taskforce, Dr Jones said: ‘There is a need for debates surrounding university access to recognise that work experience is important in the admissions process, and that independent school applicants are at an advantage because they have both access to high quality placements and the know-how to exploit it in their personal statement.’
He said state school A-level students with good grades could end up ‘missing’ from top universities due to a lack of good quality work experience.
Dr Anthony Mann, director of policy and research for Education and Employers Taskforce said: ‘Dr Jones’s research provides new evidence demonstrating the high importance of work experience to HE admissions.
‘It makes a difference to who gains admission to highly competitive courses which are gateways to attractive professional careers. ‘It is important that state schools are aware of its importance and helped to access the sort of placements which independent schools routinely source through their alumni.’
Chris Sydenham, head teacher of the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls, a comprehensive in West London, said: ‘Young people want to do meaningful work experience but placements are often hard to find for those without family or other accessible and usable connections with the working world.’
Warmists revise their facts once again
Having global warming evangelists in charge of the temperature record is a joke and their unending “adjustments” of it show vividly what a joke it is. See Anthony Watts for details of their track record.
But note something amusing: The temperature differences they talk about are so tiny that they are still statistically insignificant (i.e. are indistinguishable from random fluctuations) even after all the “adjustments”. At that rate there will be more adjustments coming down the pike, I am sure
And an important logical point: If their past facts were wrong, how can we know that the latest facts are right? Constantly-changing facts lack credibility as facts at all.
Britain’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which for years maintained that 1998 was the hottest year, has published new data showing warmer years since, further undermining a sceptic view of stalled global warming.
The findings could helpfully move the focus from whether the world is warming due to human activities – it almost certainly is – to more pressing research areas, especially about the scale and urgency of human impacts.
After adding new data, the CRU team working alongside Britain’s Met Office Hadley Centre said on Monday that the hottest two years in a 150-year data record were 2005 and 2010 – previously they had said the record was 1998.
None of these findings are statistically significant given the temperature differences between the three years were and remain far smaller than the uncertainties in temperature readings.
CRU drew fire during the 2009 “Climategate” scandal which derailed UN talks in Copenhagen and tripped up efforts at a U.S. climate bill. It was sparked after leaked emails showed CRU scientists, led by Phil Jones, sniping at rivals. The CRU was criticised in subsequent public enquiries for not sharing data but exonerated of any manipulation.
Nevertheless, it was the most cautious major climate research centre, in cooperation with the Met Office Hadley Centre, holding the view that 1998 was the hottest year in an observation record dating back to around 1850.
Its peers are the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Both had already found that 2005 and 2010 were warmer than 1998. They used an approach which gave more weight to the Arctic, where temperatures have risen faster than the rest of the world, but where there are also fewer observations.
They expanded Arctic coverage by statistically inferring warming in areas without weather stations, using neighbouring observations.
Now the CRU-Hadley Centre team have included more than 400 extra actual Arctic observations from Russia and Canada, as these countries have made these available, leading to the change in the annual ranking, which is based on fractions of a degree.
British student arrested for ‘racially offensive’ Tweet after black footballer’s collapse
There’s a lot of forbidden speech in Britain:
A student was in police custody last night after allegedly making sick comments about Fabrice Muamba, the Premier League footballer left fighting for his life after collapsing during a game.
Liam Stacey, 21, is accused of making offensive remarks on Twitter about the Bolton Wanderers player, who last night remained in a critical condition on a life support machine after suffering a cardiac arrest.
The Swansea University student is alleged to have tweeted: ‘LOL [Laugh out loud]. **** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha.’
When other users objected, he is said to have launched a volley of vile racist and sexist abuse, which is too offensive to print.
Later, the biology undergraduate, originally from Pontypridd, South Wales, posted tweets saying the remarks were not his and insisting he was not a racist.
He claimed his account had been hacked and he hadn’t had access to his phone at the time the remarks were made. However, he was arrested by South Wales police officers in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Celebrating illness in someone is unpleasant but it is precisely unpleasant speech that needs protection if free speech is to prevail. But authoritarian Britain believes in regulated speech, not free speech
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up — on his usual vastly “incorrect” themes of race, genes, IQ etc.