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milk bank

Call to Brexit-proof Ireland's supply of breast milk for premature babies

The human milk bank in Co Fermanagh currently provides milk to neonatal units in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

IRELAND’S ONLY BREAST milk bank, which provides milk to neonatal units in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, has said it expects to continue a cross-border service after Brexit.

The human milk bank in Co Fermanagh provided by the Western Health and Social Care Trust expects co-operation to continue when the UK exits the EU as the facility  “is not dependent on EU funding or legislation”. 

“It, therefore, remains our expectation that access and co-operation should continue after EU Exit, in line with the Department of Health’s priorities in respect of maintaining cross-border healthcare services,” a spokesperson for the Western Trust told 

Opened in 2000, the Western Trust milk bank issues around 1,500 litres of milk to units around Ireland each year.

Speaking earlier this year, the manager of the facility said that the breast milk bank was one of the reasons more premature babies were surviving.

In 2015 it helped approximately 856 babies including 90 sets of twins and 17 sets of triplets.

According to its website:

The bank also helps babies with major gut or heart problems by providing milk to their home.

However, as Brexit negotiations continue, it is still uncertain what is in store for the Irish border.

If there’s a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit, there’s likely to be custom checks along the border (out of the customs union), and additional tariffs (out of the single market).

This could have implications on those who rely on the service in the Republic.

‘The difference between life and death’

Concern about the future of a human milk service on the island was raised by Social Democrats’ spokeswoman on children, councillor Jennifer Whitmore, who has called for a similar facility to be set up in the Republic. 

Whitmore said she believes that sick and premature babies should not have to depend on supplies from the single donor bank located in the North. 

“This is a very important service, which in some instances can mean the difference between life and death.

The current arrangements have operated well for eighteen years, thanks to the fact that the UK is part of the EU. 

“We can’t allow families and babies-in-need to be caught up in any potential political upheaval in the wake of Brexit,” Whitmore said. 

How is milk collected?

The Milk Bank issues donors with pre-sterilised bottles, and mothers record their name and expression date on each bottle.

Milk can be frozen. Once donors have collected enough they contact the milk bank for a transport box which is then sent back to the bank, deep-frozen, using various transport routes. It is then sent on to hospitals and doctors who request it.

The Wicklow councillor has called on the Government to establish a milk bank in the Republic “so that donor milk from Irish mothers can be collected, processed and stored in this jurisdiction”. 

The HSE said in response to a query from this website that it has no plans to establish and operate a human milk bank in the Republic of Ireland but is “committed to maintaining the necessary supply”. 

“There is currently an arrangement in place to purchase donor human breast milk from a number of sites in the UK which meets the required need,” a HSE spokesperson said. 


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