One baby dies every two weeks from a preventable infection in England

One baby is killed every two weeks due to a preventable infection, an investigation has found.

According to figures from Public Health England the number of babies being made ill by early onset group B streptococcus (GBS) has increased by 12 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

A programme by BBC Radio 5 Live said that according to the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, 518 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland were made ill as a result of the bacteria with 27 deaths and dozens more were left with permanent disabilities in the year to April 2015.

The bacteria is harmless in most cases but can lead to a range of potentially fatal illnesses, including septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis if contracted within the first week of a baby's life.

GBS, which is carried by an estimated one in four pregnant women, is passed from mother to baby but in the majority of cases babies can be protected if the mother is given intravenous antibiotics during labour.

During the programme, which is due to broadcast at 11am on Sunday, several of the mothers interviewed said there should be mandatory testing for the bacteria during pregnancy.

This is already the case in some European countries and the US but routine screening is not done in the UK.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, told the programme: "The UK independent expert screening committee's last review of screening for group B strep carriage found testing in late pregnancy unreliable.

"This is because the test cannot distinguish between women whose babies will be affected by early onset group B strep and those who would not.

"This could lead to a high number of mothers and babies being exposed to unnecessary antibiotic use."

The programme said a clinical trial has recently been undertaken at Northwick Park Hospital in London in which more than 5,000 women were screened, with those testing positive offered antibiotics in labour.

Full trial results are expected to be reported in the British Medical Journal but preliminary results given after the first eighteen months showed an 80 per cent reduction in the number of babies infected with the bacteria, the show said.