The Department of Health is reported to have started plans to facilitate easy access to donated breast milk.
|Plans to set up a national breast milk bank are apparently underway.
Currently, there are 17 donor breast milk banks run by NHS hospital trusts in the UK, but there are concerns over differing standards and the fact that the trusts may not always share their stored milk with neighbouring banks, leading some babies to miss out.
The Department of Health has reportedly now ordered its clinical watchdog NICE to draw up guidelines on setting up a new service with strict procedures similar to those of the National Blood Service.
An estimated 5,000 litres of breast milk a year are donated by mothers who either find they are producing too much or choose to give.
Some 82,000 premature babies are born each year and with their chances of survival much greater than in the past, the demand for donated breast milk has also risen.
Gillian Weaver, of the UK Association for Milk Banking, a registered charity which works with NHS trusts, said that she hopes the NICE guidelines will facilitate a "national and truly equitable service".
She told the Mail on Sunday: "There are some organisations which are supportive and one milk bank relies on charitable donations but most milk banks in the UK are fully funded by individual NHS trusts.
"Babies born preterm with an immature gut benefit most, particularly in the early days following their birth. Small premature babies benefit from even the tiniest quantities of breast milk."