‘An £11 test could have saved our baby’s life’

Sydney Bennett
Sydney Bennett
QA Hospital. Picture: Will Caddy

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GRIEVING mum Robyn Bennett believes her daughter would still be alive if an £11 test to check for a potentially life-threatening bacteria had been introduced.

Sydney Bennett died aged only 22 days old in April, after she developed meningitis after contracting group B streptococcus (GBS) while her mother was giving birth.

re baby Sydney Bennett pic 3''Parents are Darrell Bennett and Robyn Bennett PPP-140307-100837001

re baby Sydney Bennett pic 3''Parents are Darrell Bennett and Robyn Bennett PPP-140307-100837001

Her parents Robyn and Darrell are angry a simple test to check women for GBS is not being provided by the NHS. It would cost around £11.

It is a pain Natalie Frost, 31, and Michael, 34, of Portsmouth, also share.

The couple were devastated when their baby girl, who they named Ella, was stillborn in 2011.

But despite these calls, the NHS said it does not plan to bring in the test, which costs £35 privately.

GBS is found in about a quarter of women and often causes no ill effects.

It can be treated with antibiotics.

Mrs Bennett, a nurse for the Royal Navy, of Lyndhurst Road, North End, said: ‘I work as a nurse and I had never heard of GBS and the risks it poses.

‘When we found out what caused us to lose Sydney we were devastated.

‘But we know couples like us have been here before and the government won’t bring in a test.

‘My daughter may still be here if these calls had been listened to, which just makes me feel so angry.’

As reported, Ella Frost died in the womb after contracting GBS, and since then her parents have been fighting for the test.

Her mum Natalie, a software analyst, said: ‘It truly sickens me that this has happened to yet another couple when it’s so easily preventable.

‘Our thoughts are with them and our hearts go out to them.’

The National Screening Committee is in charge of what conditions should be routinely checked for.

A spokesman said: ‘Every year a small number of babies will die or suffer long-term disability due to GBS.

‘One proposed solution is to offer all women at 35 weeks a test for GBS and treat those with positive results.

‘Routine screening in pregnant women is currently not recommended in the UK.’

He added: ‘This is kept under review to see if any new evidence, medical testing or new treatment would justify screening.’

‘We made a promise to Sydney and that’s what we’re doing’

Parents promise to love, cherish and provide for their children for the next 18 years and beyond.

But Robyn Bennett and her husband Darrell have made very different promises to their daughter Sydney.

They lost her to meningitis, which was brought on after she contracted a common bacteria from her mother.

What makes it that much harder for the couple is that group B streptococcus (GBS) is not routinely tested for in pregnant women, despite the fact that a course of antibiotics could make things safer for the baby.

And so Robyn, a Royal Navy nurse, has promised her little girl that she will do all she can to raise awareness of GBS.

And Darrell, a security manager, has promised to raise money for the hospital unit that helped Sydney.

Today, during Group B Strep Awareness Month, the couple share their story in order to keep their promise.

Robyn says: ‘Sydney was my first child and she was born in Queen Alexandra Hospital on April 3 at 7.15pm.

‘I was supposed to be induced because I had a liver condition brought on by my pregnancy, but Sydney decided to make her entrance into the world that little bit early.

‘She was a perfect, beautiful little girl. She was her daddy’s gorgeous girl and she always seemed to be giggling to herself.’

But slowly Robyn, 38, of Lyndhurst Road, North End, Portsmouth, noticed Sydney was not feeding properly and seemed restless, so she was taken to QA.

Robyn says: ‘Some bloods were taken from her and that’s when her whole life changed.

‘She was taken to the children’s assessment unit and was given antibiotics, she was incubated before being taken on to the paediatric intensive care unit (Picu) in Southampton General Hospital.

‘By this point she had tubes and catheters on her.’

The family then noticed one of Sydney’s pupils was dilated, while the other was enlarged, so she was sent for a CT scan. At the same time the blood results from QA arrived.

It confirmed Sydney had GBS, which had travelled in her blood to her brain causing damage.

‘I started to blame myself,’ adds Robyn. ‘I’m a nurse, and although I specialise in adult care, I had never heard of GBS.

‘I felt so guilty that I had passed this on to my baby, but I knew nothing about it.

‘During my pregnancy I was tested for a lot of things such as MRSA, HIV, and so on, yet I wasn’t even made aware of GBS.’

Robyn and Darrell, 39, were given time alone with Sydney before she died peacefully in her father’s arms aged 22 days.

‘Our family portrait was taken in hospital. We never got a chance to take pictures at home. The nurses at Picu were wonderful, so lovely. They were Sydney’s friends, she never got to make friends with other children.

‘We are just so devastated that this has happened, and what makes it worse is there is a solution.

‘If women were tested for the bacteria, or at least made aware of it, then you can plan ahead.

‘You can look for signs or have antibiotics. We never got that chance.

‘But we made a promise to Sydney that we will raise awareness of GBS and that’s what we’re doing.’

The couple is backing a petition which is calling on the Department of Health to ensure every woman is routinely given accurate information about GBS.

It is something charity Group B Strep Support also backs.

Its chief executive Jane Plumb, who lost a child to a GBS infection, says: ‘It’s so heartbreaking to hear yet another story like Robyn and Darrell’s.

‘The sad thing is it can be preventable with a simple test. GBS can lead on to meningitis or pneumonia, yet people don’t know about it.

‘About 10 per cent of the babies that have GBS will die, while seven per cent will have lifelong physical disabilities.

‘Most of those infections could be prevented. Parents need to be informed what signs to look for, such as a fever, not feeding well or impaired consciousness.

‘We are pushing the NHS to make changes. There is a recognised “gold standard” test called an ECM, which can be carried out at 37 weeks.

‘If you are positive then antibiotics can be given during labour, which can help your child.

‘Testing babies is too late, we need to prevent it.’

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT), which runs QA, does not offer GBS testing. A spokesman says: ‘Like most hospitals across the UK we follow current guidelines from the National Screening Committee which states that routine bacteriological screening of all pregnant women for antenatal GBS carriage is not recommended.

‘Any mother who is known to have GBS in their pregnancy or has had a previous pregnancy affected by it is given the option to be treated with antibiotics labour. In women with known GBS the baby is observed and is given antibiotics after it is born for 24 hours.

‘PHT’s maternity services will change its guidance on GBS if there is a change recommended by the national screening programme.’

The National Screening Committee maintains it will not be introducing the test.

A spokesman says: ‘Screening would need to prevent the worst effects for babies without causing harm in the process. Currently there are limitations with the tests and the treatment, as well as aspects of the condition, so screening may not be beneficial. Screening is not a risk-free option, and we need to be sure it didn’t do more harm than good.

‘The current GBS test is not accurate enough and would lead to thousands of women being offered antibiotics they didn’t need.’

The petition closes on February 10, 2015. To find out more, visit epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60515

Challenge set

THE challenge has been set – a team of four made up of family and friends will carry 140kg in a rucksack between for just under 20 miles.

Darrell Bennett, 39, is ex-army and now works as a security manager.

He has set himself the fundraising challenge to raise £25,000 for the paediatric intensive care unit (Picu) in Southampton General Hospital.

He, along with brother-in-law Roy Sargeant, 45, and friends Leigh Diamond and Mark Dolan will be doing the walk on August 2, starting at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, and finishing in Southampton.

The money can be spent on a giraffe warmer unit – the device in which his daughter Sydney was placed during her short stay.

Darrell’s wife Robyn says: ‘The warmer unit weighs about 140kg, which is why the guys will be carrying that amount on the walk. But it’s up to the Picu on what they feel the money should be used for.

‘The route is covering Sydney’s journey and we hope the money will help other parents that may sadly be in a similar situation to us.

‘The guys are ex-military and want to do it in under six hours – I guess they like the extra challenge.

‘Darrell made a promise to Sydney that he would fundraise and help others, we really want people to back him and make this come true.’

To donate, visit justgiving.com/sydney-bennett

Remembering Ella

THREE years on and parents Natalie and Michael Frost should be throwing a birthday party for their daughter Ella.

But they have been robbed of that chance as their little girl was stillborn and died in the womb after contracting group B streptococcus.

The germ is found in about a quarter of women and often causes no ill effects. But if it is picked up then it can be treated with antibiotics.

As reported, Mrs Frost was in labour in a birthing pool at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, when nurses first noticed there was a problem.

Midwives struggled to find Ella’s heartbeat and Natalie felt immense pain before they were told the sad news.

Since the Frosts, pictured, lost their daughter, they have been campaigning strongly for the test to be made routinely available on the NHS.

Mrs Frost, 31, a software test analyst, says: ‘In the past three years since losing Ella we have raised more than £13,000 for charity GBSS, had several articles in The News, had six parlimentary motions raised by our local MP and contributed to the 2012 petition, which had more than 17,000 signatures.

‘But nothing has changed.

‘Some days it feels utterly hopeless. No one in power cares that our babies are dying due to something so easily preventable.

‘In a court of law it would be deemed murder.

‘We continue to petition to have all women informed of GBS and to have a test available via the NHS.

‘We will never stop fighting to change this.’