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Group B streptococcus is the most common cause of severe infection suffered by babies in their first week of life. It affects one in every 2,000 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland.

This common infection, which is also known as GBS or group B strep, is a risk factor in many pregnancies. Mothers with GBS must be carefully managed in pregnancy to reduce the risk of harm to their baby. If incorrectly treated, GBS infection can lead to life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia. 

Most claims arise from delayed or negligent maternity or neonatal treatment for GBS causing brain injury to the child.

Boyes Turner’s brain injury lawyers are experts at claiming compensation for injuries caused by mistakes in maternity and neonatal care. We understand group B strep, meningitis, cerebral palsy and neurological disability. We help our client families manage the devastating consequences of their child’s injury, through their entitlement to compensation.

We push hard for admissions of liability and secure early interim payments. This helps relieve the financial impact of the child’s disability and meet the child’s urgent needs for adapted accommodation, therapies and care.   

What is group B streptococcus or GBS?

GBS is a bacterial infection carried by 40% of the population. 20% of women carry GBS in their vagina or bowel. It is usually harmless, so they often remain unaware. 

During pregnancy it is more important for a woman to know if she is carrying GBS as the infection can be dangerous for her baby.  During pregnancy and childbirth the baby can become infected with GBS. They may pick up the infection in the uterus or during delivery. Where the baby picks up GBS from their mother during pregnancy or birth, they usually start to show signs of infection within the first seven days of life. This is known as ‘early-onset’ neonatal GBS. Babies can also develop what is known as ‘late-onset’ GBS infection after the first week of their life, usually from exposure to other sources of infection.

Pregnant women who carry group B streptococcus need careful management in pregnancy and labour. This includes prompt antibiotic treatment of any signs of infection, such as urinary tract infection (UTI) during pregnancy. They should also receive antibiotics during labour and birth to reduce their baby’s risk of early-onset GBS infection. 

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What are the dangers of group B strep (GBS) infection to a newborn baby?

Group B streptococcus infection is dangerous to newborn babies because their immune systems are undeveloped. Early-onset GBS infection must be diagnosed and treated immediately. With quick diagnosis and treatment most babies with GBS make a good recovery.
Delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to life-threatening complications, such as:

  • septicaemia (‘blood poisoning’ - infection enters the bloodstream and spreads through the body); 
  • pneumonia;
  • meningitis (infection of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord).

These serious conditions can lead to:

  • death (in one in ten cases)
  • permanent disability (in one in five of those who survive GBS infection), from:
    • cerebral palsy;
    • serious learning disability;
    • deafness;
    • blindness. 

Which babies are at high risk of developing group B streptococcal infection (GBS)?
Newborn babies have a higher risk of GBS infection when:

  • they were premature (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy);
  • their mother’s previous child was diagnosed with group B strep infection:
  • their mother had a high temperature during labour (sign of infection);
  • delivery was more than 18 hours after rupture of the membranes (waters breaking). 

Newborn babies with high risk of GBS infection must be carefully monitored in hospital after birth. 

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What are the symptoms and signs of early-onset neonatal GBS (group B strep) infection?

A baby who has early-onset neonatal GBS infection will show signs and symptoms within 12 hours of birth, such as:

  • floppy and unresponsive;
  • grunting;
  • irritable;
  • abnormal temperature:
  • abnormal heart-rate;
  • abnormal respiration (breathing) rate;
  • poor feeding;
  • low blood pressure;
  • low blood sugar.
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What is the treatment for a baby with group B strep (GBS)?

If a newborn baby develops GBS infection they must receive antibiotic treatment urgently in hospital. The infection will be confirmed by tests, such as blood tests or lumbar puncture (to take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid). The baby should be given intravenous (IV) antibiotics within one hour of the decision to treat the infection. Any delay in diagnosis and treatment can cause life-threatening injury or permanent disability. 

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What screening and treatment is given to pregnant women with group B strep (GBS) infection?

Screening is not routinely offered to pregnant women in the UK. A pregnant woman who is known to carry GBS will only be given antibiotics during pregnancy if:  

  • she has a GBS urine infection during pregnancy;
  • her waters break before 37 weeks gestation;
  • if she is having a caesarean section. 

In most cases, pregnant women who are known to carry GBS will be monitored closely during pregnancy. They will be offered antibiotics when they are in labour.  
If made aware of the risks of GBS and can afford to, some women arrange for GBS screening to be carried out privately, to ensure that they know if they are carrying GBS and receive antibiotic treatment during labour and childbirth. 
 

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When can I claim for GBS infection negligence?

We can help severely disabled children claim compensation if their injury was caused by negligent maternity or neonatal care. Common mistakes in maternity or neonatal care relating to GBS infection include: 

  • failing to comply with RCOG guidance;
  • failing to give the mother adequate information about GBS or about her care plan in labour; 
  • failing to recommend or give antibiotics for signs of infection in pregnancy;
  • delay or failing to give antibiotics within one hour of the start of labour (or admission in labour) and throughout labour to a mother with risk factors for early-onset GBS infection;
  • failing to give antibiotics and offer induction of labour to a GBS positive mother whose waters break before the start of labour;
  • incorrectly advising a woman with GBS to stay at home in early labour;
  • failing to communicate to the mother or document positive GBS test results in the mother or baby’s records;
  • delay or failing to recognise and escalate care for babies with signs of early onset GBS infection;
  • delay or failing to recognise signs of the baby’s deterioration, including reluctance to feed;
  • delay or failing to give antibiotics urgently to a baby with suspected neonatal GBS infection;
  • failing to advise parents about how to recognise signs of the baby’s deterioration at home and when to seek medical help.
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Who can claim compensation for injuries caused by group B strep (GBS) negligence?

A child may be entitled to substantial compensation if mistakes in maternity, neonatal or GP treatment of group B strep infection caused them permanent injury, such as:

  • cerebral palsy, brain injury or neurological disability;
  • severe learning disability;
  • blindness;
  • deafness.
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What compensation can I claim for injury from GBS infection negligence?

Each client’s compensation claim is carefully calculated to reflect their own injury and unique circumstances. Our clients’ compensation settlements are negotiated and structured to make the best provision to meet their lifelong needs. 
Compensation for cerebral palsy, brain injury or severe neurological disability arising from GBS negligence often includes payments for:

  • pain, suffering and disability;
  • care;
  • case management;
  • occupational therapy (OT);
  • physiotherapy;
  • speech and language therapy;
  • assistive technology;
  • adapted accommodation;
  • specialist equipment and aids;
  • adapted vehicles or transport costs;
  • special educational support;
  • loss of earnings;
  • medical costs;
  • other reasonable costs arising directly from the disability.
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Meet your team

Susan Brown

Partner

Richard Money-Kyrle

Partner

Julie Marsh

Senior associate - solicitor

Vanessa Wand

Senior associate - solicitor

Nicola Anderson

Associate - solicitor

Rachel Makore

Associate - solicitor

Alpa Rana

Associate - solicitor

Fran Rothwell

Associate solicitor

Sita Soni

Associate - solicitor

Tara Byrne

Solicitor

Ben Ireland

Solicitor

Audrey Elmore

Medical records coordinator

Nicky Melville

Professional support assistant

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From a speculative inquiry to a life changing award, the journey with Julie Marsh was interesting. Julie kept me informed along the way explaining exactly what was going on and more importantly why. The team that was assembled certainly knew their stuff which meant I got all the necessary support to keep going. Thank you all. 

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