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Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 10:26 GMT


Organ transplants 'on a knife edge'

Organ transplantation may be under threat

The future of organ transplantation is on "a knife edge" because of a shortage of specialists and donors, says a major report by surgeons.

Fergus Walsh: "Transplant surgeons are in short supply"
The report, by a Working Party of The Royal College of Surgeons, urges the launch of a national awareness campaign, particularly focused on schools and universities, in order to to increase the number of donors.

Anyone can be an organ donor, but young people are advised to let their parents or guardians know of their decision.

Organ shortage

At the end of 1997, there were some 4.6m registered organ donors in the UK - more than half the number doctors said are needed.

[ image:  ]
By June 1998, there were still 4,526 people waiting for transplants.

Thirty per cent of relatives of people who have died refuse to give permission for their organs to be removed.

Professor Sir Peter Morris, chairman of the Working Party, said public awareness of the need for organ donation had to be increased to achieve the necessary target of 10 million registered donors over the next two years.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the provision of organ transplantation as a service is on a knife edge, the two major problems being an inadequate supply of organs to meet the demand and an acute shortage of transplant surgeons," he stated.

He wants organ donation after death to become "part of the culture of this country".

Professor Sir Peter Morris: organ donation should be part of the culture
He says education should begin at an early stage so that "gradually the thought of being an organ donor would become a natural reaction to death" and would be "almost routine".

Transplants are now the main way of treating most forms of major organ failure, provided a donor organ is available.

The first organ transplant took place in the late 1950s. Kidney transplants became routine in the 1960s and were followed by heart and lung transplants.

Transplants are now being done on a range of organs, including the kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel.


The Working Party recommends:

  • Setting up a £15m National Transplant Service to lay out a national strategy on how to deliver transplant services. This would replace and have a wider role than the UK Transplant Support Service Authority;
  • Launching a national campaign to increase the number of organ donors and to double the number of living kidney donors;
  • Increasing the number of beds in neurosurgical intensive therapy units;
  • Funding counselling courses for donors' families;
  • Increasing training opportunities and research fellowships for trainee transplant surgeons;
  • Strengthening multi-organ retrieval teams across the country to ensure they are consultant-led and include necessary staff like anaesthetists.

The report says the current strategy for transplants is "piecemeal".

It wants the National Transplant Service to maintain a database of donor organs, designate transplant units, improve multi-organ retrieval, allocate organs to patients, maintain standards monitor transplant results and recruit and train transplant coordinators.

The Royal College of Surgeons is looking at whether it can offer research fellowships in transplantation to increase the numbers of doctors specialising in the field.

Its report will be sent to the Department of Health for consideration.

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