Cord blood which remains in the placenta and the umbilical cord following the birth of a baby is rich in blood stem cells similar to those found in bone marrow, and these stem cells can then be used to treat different cancers, immune deficiencies and genetic disorders. According the NHS Blood and Transplant website Stem Cells are amazing.
According to our research we note that the NHS Cord Blood Bank opened in 1996, and it is the world’s fourth largest public cord blood bank, but it seems that so very few pregnant women know they can donate the stem cells from their placenta and cord. The level of awareness is not there at present, and also with only five hospitals around the London area able to collect cord blood, even then only at certain times of the day it would seem we are not doing all we can to ensure an adequate supply of stem cells are being taken to help those in need of the lifesaving treatment they can provide.
The procedure to collect cord blood is totally painless and risk free to mother and baby, it can be taken by a trained phlebotomist, and more awareness needs to be introduced to advise those expecting a baby of this procedure. In addition many more hospitals need to be able to offer this service. We do understand that the Anthony Nolan Trust collects blood from a further four hospitals, the Trust of course being a charity, but that still would be only nine hospitals offering this as an option out of the whole country.
We await your response with interest over this important issue.
Reply from: Rory Howard – Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries, Department of Health and Social Care
The Department has provided more than £26 million to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and Anthony Nolan for stem cell donation since 2011. This investment has helped to improve the provision of stem cells for transplantation, and more patients are now receiving transplants from an unrelated donor.
The collection and use of umbilical cord blood remains an important element of the overall strategy to address the unmet need for bone marrow donors. Cord blood provides a source of stem cells that are more tolerant of minor mismatches in tissue type than bone marrow stem cells. Cord blood is particularly important to black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) patients, where there is a global shortage of suitable donors. Patients from the BAME community are less likely to receive cord blood compared to other patients (four per cent compared to 21 per cent). The continued availability of cord blood is an essential part of the equitable provision of stem cells for transplantation.
The Department continues to support the collection of cord blood by NHS BT and Anthony Nolan, the blood cancer charity, at specialised centres based at maternity hospitals. These centres employ additional specialist staff to ensure the stem cells are collected without affecting mother or baby.
NHS BT operates in six different maternity units and Anthony Nolan in four.