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EDITIONS
Monday, 5 August, 2002, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Organ shortage puts transplants at risk
Organ donation
Some 5,657 people are on the transplant waiting list
Britain's organ transplant service faces disaster unless more donors are found, experts have warned.

Doctors have also revealed that some patients are not even making the waiting list because the shortage of organs is so severe.

The warnings follow the publication of official figures showing a sharp drop in the number of transplants carried out in the NHS in the first half of this year.


We are doing everything we can to put in place programmes across the NHS to increase donation

Sue Sutherland, UK Transplant
They show the number of organs available for transplants is falling while the numbers waiting continue to rise.

The figures suggest that many patients are dying because of a shortage of organs.

Fewer operations

Figures from UK Transplant, which runs the donor system, show the number of transplants fell by 13% - from 1,328 to 1,172 - in the six months to July compared with the same period in 2001.

Kidney transplants fell from 771 to 648, lung transplants from 49 to 45 and liver transplants from 381 to 359.

Heart transplants remained stable at 83, but joint heart and lung swaps fell from 23 to just seven.

However, joint kidney and pancreas operations rose from 21 to 30.

Some 5,657 people are on the transplant waiting list, a 2% increase since January.

For liver transplants, the waiting list has jumped by 47% compared to last year.

But doctors have suggested that many more patients could be waiting for treatment.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA
Dr Nathanson called for a new donor system
Professor Andrew Bradley, director of transplantation at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, and a former president of the British Transplant Society, said some doctors were refusing to put patients' names on lists because there was little hope of them receiving an organ.

"Heart transplant surgeons are not putting patients forward because they know there is no hope of them competing for a heart," he told The Times newspaper.

Professor Bradley described the current situation as "a complete disaster".

Donor drive

Sue Sutherland, chief executive of UK Transplant, says it was working hard to boost the number of donors.

"We are doing everything we can to put in place programmes across the NHS to increase donation," she said.

An estimated 9.5 million people are currently on the organ donor register. The government has pledged to increase that number of 16 million by 2010.

The Department of Health said fewer deaths from accidents and illness meant there were fewer potential donors.

A spokeswoman said: "There are not enough donors to match the numbers of patients waiting for a transplant - there are between three and four patients waiting for every organ that becomes available.


Our present old-fashioned and creaking arrangements badly need to be brought up to date

Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem health spokesman
"The reasons for a shortage of donors are varied - a reduction in the death rate, relatives not being asked to give their consent, coroners refusing to allow donation."

But the Liberal Democrats said the figures highlighted the need to change the way organs are obtained.

Its health spokesman Dr Evan Harris urged the government to replace the current donor volunteer programme with a system that presumes consent unless someone has expressed a wish to opt out.

He said: "This is an urgent problem. There are many people in desperate need of a life saving or life transforming transplant who die while waiting.

"Many organs are lost to burial or cremation when their owners would have wanted them to be used to save a life.

"Our present old-fashioned and creaking arrangements badly need to be brought up to date."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association backed the opt-out system and called on the government to change the law on organ donation.

She told the BBC: "We need to look to parliament for legislation particularly for a system where we opt out - that is, we assume that anyone who dies whose organs can be used will be used unless they have registered that they wouldn't want their organs to be used."

Anyone wishing to add their name to the donor register should ring 0845 6060400.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gill Higgins
"Kidney transplants have been badly hit"
Sue Sutherland of UK Transplant
"We are concerned but we don't believe it is a complete disaster"
Nick Turkentine, National Kidney Research Fund
"There are less people dying in road accidents and so the amount of organs that are available are reducing"
See also:

14 Feb 01 | Health
03 Aug 02 | Health
05 Jul 02 | Health
17 Mar 02 | England
14 Feb 01 | Health
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