As we gathered today for a team meeting, it was time to reflect on an amazing year in 2021 and gather our thoughts for goal-setting for 2022. The work of last year has laid some amazing foundations as we strive to make sure that donor milk is available for all babies who might benefit. Demand from hospitals has started to increase rapidly, and shows no signs of slowing down as we start January.

The team led by Dr Natalie Shenker at Imperial College London is starting a study this week to understand why this increase is happening, and will be reporting to BAPM as soon as possible. It isn’t just Hearts that is affected – NHS milk banks are also under great pressure. It really is time for a national conversation around how non-profit milk bank services are resourced for the future, and we are grateful to those of you who are already starting that conversation.

Being able to recruit more donors through the remarkable public support for the Human Milk Foundation means that there is pre-built capacity to meet this demand. It is now vital that services can go further to maintain and expand the one-to-one advice that makes so much difference to families at home, while always prioritising those critically ill babies in hospital. Being able to track and trace donor milk reliably from the moment it is expressed until dispatch using Savant’s bespoke Li-Lac Milk Tracking System is helping at every step. This system even means the team can safely recruit donors for community provision even if they are taking small doses of medication that would mean donation was not possible for premature babies.

We are also delighted that, with excellent collaborative work between the Hearts team and NHS milk banks, donors can now reliably donate milk across almost the whole country. This map shows where Hearts can currently recruit from, and we will be updating this regularly as new hubs and logistics infrastructure come online.

Our goals for this year? Well, as we reflected, given how challenging the last 2 years of the pandemic have been, we are proud that anything of our work survived at all, let alone the remarkable growth that we have been able to achieve. We hope this year will continue to go further, creating more roles across the country, opening new community hubs, working with even more NHS services, and supporting many more families. And that’s down to the dedication of the whole team, volunteers, and supporters – you.

There is a picture on the wall of the office painted by the mother of one of the first donor milk recipients. It says ‘Always believe that something magical is about to happen’. And it’s happening. Happy New Year everyone.