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Maternity units warning over 'illegal' umbilical cord blood collection

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The collection of umbilical cord blood to preserve stem cells could be illegal, maternity units and private practices have been warned.

The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) issued the advice after hearing reports that parents and midwives were being asked to collect the blood themselves, sparking fears that this could compromise patient care.

The organisation said it had written to maternity units, firms and professional bodies to warn that unlawful blood collection could compromise both safety and quality of care.

“Collection of cord blood is the same as any other medical procedure: it needs to be carried out safely by trained staff because collection is not without risk to the mother and baby,” Dr Shaun Griffin, director of communications at the HTA, said.

Louise Silverton, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, added: “It is essential that midwives are able to concentrate on the birth and are not put under pressure to carry out unregulated and unlawful cord blood collections.

“If parents are thinking about cord blood banking, they need to discuss this with their midwife, or other health professional, to find out if collection is viable.”

Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of cord blood collections across the country, climbing from 14,335 in 2008 to 15,514 last year, the HTA said.

The blood is a rich source of stem cells, highly valued for their ability to grow many different kinds of human body tissue. Some private health companies charge up to £1,500 for extracting the cells from the blood, which can then be stored for as long as 25 years.

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