A foundation trust has seemingly backtracked on a scheme to offer mothers a private facility to collect blood from their baby’s umbilical cord.
The deal between Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust and Virgin Health Bank would have seen new parents at the Rosie Hospital for women given the option of having the blood collected and stored by the company for £1,195.
Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, which could potentially be used in future treatments.
The deal, thought to have been the first of its kind in the NHS, would also have seen VHB pay the trust to process and store the blood.
Cambridge’s original statement, released last month, said: “As part of the agreement, VHB will give parents having babies at the Rosie Hospital the chance to enter into a contract to have the cord blood of their newborns collected and stored rather than discarded, as is current practice.”
VHB’s statement, released the next day, said the “ground-breaking” agreement would see “mothers [giving birth] at the Rosie Hospital able to contract with VHB” to have the cord blood collected and stored.
However, after HSJ asked the trust how and when during pregnancy VHB’s offer to collect the blood would be presented to parents, it said its earlier statement had been incorrect. A spokeswoman said: “We are still in discussions regarding the possibility of setting up a collection agreement.” She added that the trust had so far only signed up to undertake the processing and storage for VHB.
The original proposal was attacked by the Royal College of Midwives, which has previously criticised trusts for allowing firms to market photographic services to new mothers. Janet Fyle, its professional policy adviser, said she was uncomfortable with “marketing to women at a very sensitive time”.
“It is a dangerous incentive for a hospital to be paid to promote a money-making scheme,” she said.
However, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said in a statement: “If parents are able to afford it and want to store their children’s cord blood privately on the off chance they may need to use it in future, it is their choice.”
In its original press release VHB said it would offer to donate some of each baby’s stem cells to the trust. The company offers another collection and storage service where the cells are kept exclusively for the customer for £1,695.
VHB is owned by Virgin Group, the Qatar Foundation and the Excalibur Group. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson said in the original press release that the scheme was “a great example of what can be achieved through collaboration between businesses and the public sector”.
The release added that Virgin Group had pledged to “reinvest any profits” made to “further the development of stem cell therapies”.