Ireland is being 'left way behind' in providing future sources of stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord blood of newborns, because of insurance-related policies preventing their collection. Professor Colin McGuckin, president of Novus Sanguis, an international research consortium on cord blood and stem cell research has called on Irish parents to sue the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) when denied the service.
Cord blood is an important source of blood stem cells that can be potentially used for the treatment of serious diseases such as leukemia.
Some parents want these cells harvested and stored at birth, so that their children can guarantee access to potentially beneficial treatments using tissue-matched stem cells. There are no cord blood banks for private or public storage of these cells in Ireland however, so any cells that are harvested must be sent abroad for storage.
Moreover, Irish health professionals are not insured to harvest cord blood cells, following the Clinical Indemnity Scheme's announcement last year that they would not be covered for collection of cord blood for commercial banking, without specific authorisation for the particular hospital, or clearance by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service in the case where consultants identify a child at risk of developing serious disease in later life. Private companies have their own insurance, but this means cord blood can only be harvested in private hospitals. Additionally, there is tension surrounding the harvesting of cord blood for public or private use, since a public resource could provide future treatments for individuals other than the donor.
Professor McGuckin sees the harvesting and storage of cord blood as a vital 'biological insurance' for the future. However the 'experimental' nature of much cord blood-related therapeutic research, as well as a lack of resources so set up a storage facility, has led the Irish Department of Health to decide to keep developments in this area 'under review', with 'no plans to develop a cord blood bank at this time'.In the UK, both private and public cord blood banks exist. However, some NHS hospitals have banned the harvesting of cord blood on behalf of commercial banks, so if an individual wants to organise a private cord blood collection then they may have to arrange to give birth at a private hospital, depending on where they live.