| 7.6°C Dublin

Main hospitals veto lifesaving cord-blood bank

IRELAND'S three leading maternity hospitals will not provide standard cord-blood collection facilities for parents who want to save their newborn's stem cells for future medical use.

The Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street have agreed on a policy of not carrying out routine collection and storage of umbilical cord blood, which contains valuable cells for use in the treatment of such illnesses as leukemia and cystic fibrosis.

But it means parents who can afford to attend selected licensed private hospitals will have the choice -- while those who attend one of the three main Dublin hospitals will not.

Hospital chiefs say the chances of ever having to draw the blood are so low -- estimated at one in 10,000 -- that they would not justify such a costly and time-consuming move. It will be a disappointment to a growing number of parents who are opting to harvest their child's stem cells at birth and freeze them in the event that the child could become seriously ill.

Cells from the umbilical cord are described as "genetic gold dust", as they are the body's master cells which can become bone, muscle, cartilage and other cells.

Dr Michael Geary, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, explained: "All three hospitals agreed that we would not make the service available across the board. We signed a policy document.

"The chance of ever needing to draw this blood is extremely low and even at that it might not be suitable."

Dr Geary said the lack of scientific evidence on cord-blood usage was a major factor in the decision.

"Should further scientific evidence on the issue come to light, we will re-assess the situation," he said.

However, he stressed that the Coombe, the Rotunda and Holles Street would make exceptions in "high-risk" patients, for example, where the cord blood cells of the newborn could go to saving the life of a family member.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

"We believe it should only be done in cases where there is a real risk and then we will bend over backwards, walk through fire to ensure it is done," he said.

He said that the hospitals carry out cord-blood collection on patients recommended by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS).

Dr William Murphy, IBTS national medical director, explained: "If there is a child with leukemia, whose mother is pregnant, then we recommend cord-blood collection from that newborn. In those special cases, a midwife takes the cord blood and it is sent back to us for freezing and storage."

Only around 10 such recommendations are made in a year -- and of these 10, only one case will use the blood.

Since last November, all hospitals carrying out cord-blood collection and storage must have an EU licence to do so. The EU Commission directive was put in place to ensure proper standards in the area of stem-cell collection and use.

Private hospital Mount Carmel in Churchtown, Dublin, is one of the few in Ireland where the procedure is carried out.

Consultant obstetrician at the hospital, Gerry Rafferty, said: "The main hospitals won't go for their licence, they don't want the bother and the expense, when the odds of ever having to draw the blood are so low."

However, MEP Kathy Sinnott described the policy as "criminal".

"When you think you can prevent strokes, car accident injuries, a range of medical problems, and we are throwing away 60,000 umbilical cords a year," she said.

Most Watched