THOUSANDS of sick and premature babies from as far afield as Carlisle and Cardiff will benefit from the new Northwest Human Milk Bank.
Formed by the merger of Cheshire and North Wales Human Milk Bank (HMB) and Wirral Human Milk Bank, the new organisation is now based in the University of Chester’s ERDF-funded North West Food Research and Development Centre, known as the NoWFOOD Centre.
The bank collects breast milk from donor mothers who have an excess supply and are willing to provide it free to enable sick and premature babies to have the benefit of milk when their own mothers are unable to provide it.
The donor mother goes through a rigorous screening process and the donated milk is tested and pasteurised and stored in freezers until required.
Northwest HMB will be the only milk bank in England or Wales with the specialised equipment to measure the macro-nutrient content of each bottle of milk thus enabling healthcare professionals to administer precise levels of nutrition for their patients.
Northwest HMB will also be the largest human milk bank in the country and will supply donor milk to any hospital in the UK which requires it.
Production levels will be around 1,500 litres per year, with the capacity to increase supply as necessary. The two milk banks were previously supplying around 40 hospitals across the UK on demand.
Donor milk will be available to hospitals 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year with the Countess of Chester Hospital’s Neonatal Unit staff holding a stock of milk to supply hospitals in out of hours emergencies.
The HMB occupies three rooms at NoWFOOD, housing the administrative and storage functions, with space for donors’ milk to be tested and screened for evidence of medication, diet, disease or contaminants such as pesticides.
Cases where the milk bank has proved essential include:
l For a new mother with cancer, whose chemotherapy began after her baby was born
l With twins, whose mother was already breastfeeding other young siblings
l To support mothers, who are unable to breastfeed
l To feed an infant, whose mother died shortly after the birth.
The new combined service is a joint venture between the Countess of Chester Hospital and Wirral University Teaching Hospital.
The Northwest HMB will continue to be under NHS governance and operations will be overseen by a Countess of Chester Consultant Paediatrician.
The merging of the two milk banks will increase efficiency through economies of scale and represents a blueprint for the establishment of regional centres across the UK for the supply of donated breast milk to special care baby units.
The Northwest HMB will have subsidiary depots in Preston and Hull, previously set up by Chester Milk Bank, and further depots are planned.
These vastly reduce the transport costs for hospitals wishing to access milk and are a key step towards eliminating the ‘postcode lottery’ for sick and premature babies receiving donor milk.
Maud Duthie-van der Venne, project manager for NowFOOD, said: “We’re thrilled to have the Northwest Human Milk Bank based here at NoWFOOD.
“We believe our specialist laboratories and food testing facilities can offer HMB opportunities for further future development.”