A government report on how the NHS has lost its grip over the leaky, leaky baby formula supply is being released for the first time in two years.
The Royal College of Nursing has criticised the new approach to managing a growing problem of under-supply and said it is “not the solution”.
The report, called Breastfeeding for the Future: Improving Access to Breastfeeding and Baby Formula, says the NHS should adopt a “biodiversity” approach and allow for more diverse foods to be served.
It said it was important for the NHS to improve its “cultural competence” in the area of breastfeeding and to take “appropriate action” in case the food supply failed to meet “the needs of mothers and infants”.
“The report identifies three areas of urgent concern for the government, which need to be addressed,” it said.
“First, a shift in the way the NHS delivers services for babies and young people, which is needed to meet the demands of the growing demand for breastmilk.”
The report said it recognised that “there is a need to increase the diversity of breastfeeding arrangements” but that the “challenges for the health service will be greater if the NHS does not have the capacity to deliver and meet the needs of all mothers”.
The Royal Colleges of Nursing said it had been concerned about the “potential for maternal and infant health and wellbeing in the absence of a proper breastfeeding programme”.
The committee also warned that “the NHS needs to continue to invest in the provision of breastmilks in order to meet growing demand”.
The study by the Royal College, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, said it would examine how to improve the supply of formula, and to ensure that breastfeeding facilities are “fit for purpose”.
The government is currently reviewing its policy of introducing a “no-cost formula” for all babies and adults over the age of six.
This would allow babies to receive free formula at any time and would be a “transformative step” to “increase the number of breastfeeding facilities across the NHS”, the report said.
It called for the introduction of “special-needs babies” to receive formula at home as part of a pilot scheme.
The Government has not announced plans to introduce a “cost-free formula” as part the pilot scheme, but the report noted that it was “not feasible for the UK to meet all the needs” of all infants.
The committee recommended that the Government consider whether “all infants should be offered a free formula package”.
It also suggested that the government consider the “long-term viability of formula as a complementary and alternative food”.
The findings of the report were welcomed by the Breastfeeding Association, which said it supported the committee’s recommendations.
“We believe that this report will provide reassurance to the UK’s maternity services, support new providers, and support the NHS in ensuring that breastfeeding is safe, accessible and culturally sensitive for all of its members,” the group said.
The report was published by the charity Breastfeeding International and was co-authored by Professor Kate Kelly, the president of the Royal Colleges, and Dr Louise Tovey, an expert in the field of nutrition.
The Department of Social Protection said the report was part of its review of how the health system deals with the rising demand for baby formula.
“The Royal College report is a great start to addressing the challenges we face in the supply chain and we welcome the report’s recommendations,” a spokeswoman said.