Thousands of babies had DNA stored on NHS database which police could access
More than 10,000 babies in Leicestershire had their DNA stored on an NHS database last year without the proper consent of their parents, it has been claimed.
Blood samples are taken from newborn infants around the country in routine heel prick tests to screen for serious health problems.
But it has emerged they are banked in databases for years by hospitals, and could be accessed by police looking to identify criminal suspects.
Medical researchers can also gain access to them, prompting concerns that a national DNA database is being created by the back door.
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Mothers are given leaflets explaining their child's blood will be stored for "at least five years", but campaigners say parents are not being properly informed that some hospitals are holding samples indefinitely and that they might be used in police inquiries.
Dr Helen Wallace, director of pressure group GeneWatch, said it was important for mothers to agree to the tests for the benefit of their children's health.
But she said parents were not being asked for "fully informed consent" – and said new mums were not always in the best position to take in information about the storage of their child's DNA.
Dr Wallace said: "Giving mothers a leaflet does not amount to informed consent.
"No one who has just given birth is in a state to understand the full implications of how their baby's genome might be used in future.
"There are companies with a commercial interest in sequencing genomes – we don't want that to happen without parents being aware of what's going on."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, has raised concerns and has written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to ask for an investigation.
The Department of Health said there were "strict safeguards" in place.
It added that on the "very rare occasions" when police wanted access to the samples, they would have to get a court order. The department said parents were "well informed" about screening and sample storage.
Figures from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust show that between 10,000 and 11,000 infants had the heel prick test last year.
Parents who agree to the test are automatically agreeing for the sample to go on the database.
A spokeswoman for the trust said mums were given leaflets before and after birth.
She said: "Very few parents decline the test for their child."
The trust would not comment further.
Sir Peter Soulsby, MP for Leicester South, said: "It's right that mothers are made fully aware that the data may be stored, but on the other hand it's important that health authorities are able to take and screen these samples.
"What matters is that we are aware of the potential for abuse and put in safeguards to avoid it."
The blood samples, which are taken from babies aged five to eight days, are tested for conditions such as sickle cell disorders and cystic fibrosis.
Samples taken in Leicestershire are sent to a centre at Sheffield Children's Hospital.