MSPs have called for “definitive action” on testing for a preventable infection in pregnancy after hearing emotional evidence from a mother who lost her 12-day-old son to meningitis.
The National revealed yesterday how Shaheen McQuade had lodged a petition with more than 12,700 signatures of support with the Scottish Parliament calling for urgent action to save more babies dying of an infection called Group B Streptococcus.
Shaheen, 25, and her partner Craig Blackie, 32, launched a campaign to raise awareness and call for routine screening for pregnant women after their son Zach died of the infection which was passed onto him during labour last August.
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She told Holyrood’s public petitions committee how a simple swab would have identified the bacteria in the birth canal, allowing antibiotics to be administered and her son’s life to be saved.
She is calling for every pregnant woman to be routinely tested and made aware of the risk of Group B Strep infection and more funding to find more reliable methods of testing.
Shaheen said after the hearing: “I feel overwhelmed by the support from the MSPs. It is never going to bring Zach back but to know that I could be preventing other parents from going through it is making it all worthwhile.
“Zach was not given the right to live. I’ve been denied the right to have my son in my life and watch him grow up. Instead I have been sentenced to a lifetime of heartache.
“To lose a baby is devastating, to know it could have been prevented is torture. This has to change.
“I think it’s neglect. The NHS took a gamble with my son’s life and they lost. I don’t want any other parents or families to suffer what we have had to go through.”
An earlier petition on the same issue was closed by MSPs in May last year after the Scottish Government said it would redraft the Ready Steady Baby! booklet given to pregnant women to include more information on Group B Strep, but Ms McQuade said she had never been given or heard of such a booklet.
Independent advisory body the UK National Screening Committee is also reviewing the evidence on Group B Strep screening of pregnant women.
Public petitions committee convener Michael McMahon said: “Shaheen told the committee that the aim of her petition is to help others and she showed immense courage in sharing her personal story.
“The committee has a long track record in raising the issue of Group B Strep information and testing with the Scottish Government.
“We are concerned by its lack of urgency in providing a practical response. While we await review, Shaheen and potentially others have suffered tragic loss and this is unacceptable. We will be calling on the Scottish Government to take urgent action on this serious issue.”
Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw said there appeared to be a “lack of urgency to find a way forward”.
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “I would like to reassure women that if, during pregnancy, or following the birth of their baby, where there is a risk of an infection, they will be monitored and treated appropriately. A number of actions on group b streptococcus are underway including a national study that will be used to inform research and develop new tests.
On screening issues like this, the Scottish Government is guided by the independent, expert advice provided by the UK National Screening Committee. The Committee will be reviewing its advice on national screening for group b streptococcus this year and will carefully consider any change to the recommendations it may make.”