'Processing' issues identified at Northern Ireland's only breast milk bank
Premature and sick babies are being denied lifesaving breast milk from Ireland's only human milk bank in Co Fermanagh after "processing" problems were discovered, it can be revealed.
The incident has prompted the importation of breast milk from England by Belfast's Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in order to feed babies here.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that 259 litres of donated breast milk destined for babies in need had been disposed of after issues arose with how it was handled and processed.
The Human Milk Bank has been based in Fermanagh since August 2000 and is managed by the Western Trust.
It has provided human milk for thousands of needy babies all across Ireland, many of whom would have died without this help.
Annually it provides over 1,500 litres of lifesaving breast milk to more than 900 babies.
The bank also helps babies with major gut or heart problems by providing milk to their homes as well as those being cared for in hospices.
However, it relies on breastfeeding mothers from all across Ireland for donations.
In recent months the milk bank relocated to Enniskillen's South West Acute Hospital from its smaller base in nearby Irvinestown, which is when issues arose that prompted the disposal of the milk.
It is understood that the milk was deemed unusable following transit and had to be dumped while donors were contacted and told that their milk was not required for now.
The Western Trust said: "The milk bank has recently relocated to more suitable accommodation in the South West Acute Hospital.
"Regretfully, the trust encountered difficulties achieving processing standards during this relocation period and donor milk had to be disposed of.
"The milk bank will work diligently to achieve the understandably high standards required to assist vulnerable and sick babies and children and will recommence the service at the earliest opportunity.
"We would like to thank all of our donors for their continued support, as it is only with their help that this invaluable service can continue."
The Belfast Trust said: "Whilst the milk bank is operated by the Western Trust, the Royal Jubilee uses donated milk in our neo-natal service.
"We are importing milk from England as an interim measure and reassure the public that there is no shortage of milk in the neo-natal unit."