Lab test.

Severe brain injury, early neonatal death and intrapartum stillbirth associated with group B streptococcus infection

HSIB legacy content

HSIB legacy content

This investigation was carried out by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). Find out more about HSIB legacy.

Investigation summary

In February 2020 we published a national learning report to highlight the themes emerging from the initial investigations carried out as part of our maternity investigation programme.

These initial investigations were carried out between April 2018 and December 2019. One of the themes highlighted was group B streptococcus (GBS).

Our national learning reports can be used by healthcare leaders, policymakers, and the public to:

  • Aid their knowledge of systemic patient safety risks.
  • Understand the underlying contributing factors.
  • Inform decision making to improve patient safety.

Group B streptococcus

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a naturally occurring bacterium. It is often found in the vagina, which can be dangerous for babies most commonly during labour and immediately after birth.

Infection can cause severe brain injury, early neonatal death (the death of a live-born baby) and intrapartum stillbirth (a baby born with no signs of life).

Giving antibiotics during labour is the most effective way to reduce the infection being passed onto a baby.

National learning report summary

In the initial reports from our maternity investigation programme, GBS was identified in 39 reports. In 24 of the 39 investigations the presence of GBS did not contribute to the outcome for the baby.

In the other 15 investigations, GBS was considered to have contributed to 6 neonatal deaths, 6 intrapartum stillbirths and 3 severe brain injuries. In these cases, GBS was either not known about, or antibiotic treatment was delayed or not given.

The common themes emerging around GBS from our maternity investigations relate to:

  • advice and management
  • staff resources and capacity
  • sharing of clinical information
  • detecting unwell babies.

Information for mothers and healthcare professionals

Up-to-date information about GBS for mothers and healthcare professionals can be found on the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists website, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website and the Group B Strep Support website.