UK obstetrician Leroy Edozien has called for new mothers to be discouraged from privately banking their babies' cord blood immediately after birth. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Mr Edozien, of St Mary's Hospital Manchester, warns that consenting procedures and collecting blood for private banking puts further strain on already overstretched midwives and other hospital staff. Mr Edozien writes, 'time spent on collecting cord blood is time away from the care of this mother, the baby, and, critically, other patients'. He continued, pointing out that problems with private blood banking do not apply to altruistic donation of cord blood as, in this case, 'the blood is collected by specially trained staff who are not involved in routine care and there is no imperative to obtain a sample from any particular woman'. Mr Edozien believes that mothers should be encouraged to donate altruistically to public blood banks rather than to store the blood for their own possible future use. According to the BBC news website, the chance of an individual using personal cord blood for a blood cell disorder before the age of twenty is estimated to be between 1 in 20,000 and 1 in 37,000.
Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells which can be used to treat blood disorders such as childhood leukaemia. The NHS has been collecting and storing cord blood donated for general use since 1996. It has now collected over 17,000 samples, which may be accessed by those in need. But some commercial companies are claiming that, through advances in stem cell science, storing cord blood could protect the child's 'future health', and could potentially be used in the event of the child suffering from diseases such as Parkinson's. Private cord blood banks charge up to £1500 to store samples for up to twenty years. In June the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued an updated version of its Scientific Opinion Paper on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking, which, having investigated the claims of private cord blood banks, found that there is little evidence to recommend the practice.
According to Mr Edozien, 'Storing cord blood at birth as insurance against future disease may sound like a good idea to parents, but it has worrying implications for NHS services and little chance of benefit. Increasing numbers of women in maternity units across the United Kingdom are requesting collection of umbilical cord blood at delivery to enable storage of stem cells for possible autologous transfusion in the future. Such commercial banking of cord blood has important implications for National Health Service maternity units. The debate on whether commercial cord blood banking should be encouraged has mostly been limited to the scientific merits, but risk management, medicolegal, and ethical issues also need considering'. A spokeswoman for the commercial firm UK Cord Blood Bank (UKCBB), a leading private bank in the UK, told the BBC, 'Private banks in the UK have an important role to play, particularly as the NHS has limited resources'. She also said that the UKCBB had taken steps to address some of the concerns mentioned by Mr Edozien, including offering the services of an independent nursing agency to carry out the collection.