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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 16:06 GMT
Overdose organs transplant call
Transplant organs are scarce
Transplant organs are scarce
Potential transplant organs are being wasted because doctors do not believe they are suitable for use, says a study.

There are currently thousands of patients in the UK who are on the transplant list awaiting an operation.

The poor supply of suitable organs means that the number of transplants actually carried out is declining.

However, researchers from Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London found that some transplant surgeons would turn down organs which came from victims of accident or deliberate poisoning.

There is no culture of organ transplantation in our hospitals
Spokesman, National Kidney Federation
However, even someone who died as the result of a cyanide overdose may well be able to provide organs that are safe to use.

The traditional image of the organ donor is the young person left brain stem dead after a trauma such as a car accident.

But there are many other circumstances in which organs can be retrieved, provided the hospital realises this in time and opts to keep the patient alive on a ventilator while they are removed.

The research, published in the journal Critical Care, took the form of a questionaire in which transplant surgeons and intensive care unit doctors were asked about hypothetical situations in which an organ might be available.

Turned down

The survey found that three out of 10 transplant surgeons would not consider or accept organs from patients poisoned with methanol, cyanide or carbon monoxide.

Only half would consider the organs of someone who had died from a cocaine overdose - although caution in this case was attributed to the suspicion that, as a drug user, the chances of the organ carrying hepatitis or HIV was higher.

The study authors concluded: "Poisoned patients are another pool of organ donors, who at present are probably underused by transplantation services."

Dr David Wood, from the National Poisons Information Service in London, one of the authors, told BBC News Online: "It may be that the surgeon has used an organ taken from a patient such as this and had an unsuccessful outcome, so he is unwilling to try another one."

However, Dr Chas Newstead, a consultant renal physician from St James' University Hospital in Leeds, and a member of the British Transplantation Society, said that it was unlikely that any organ retrieved from a patient would be wasted.

He told BBC News Online: "Even if it is rejected by one centre, it will probably be taken up by another one.

"The number of organs that are not used is very small.

"It is at the district general hospital level that there is the potential for improvement."


A spokesman for the Kidney Research Federation, which represents many of those on dialysis awaiting a new organ, said that the problem of "wasted organs" was a major issue.

He told BBC News Online: "There are many very ill people coming into our hospitals who are potential organ donors - who perhaps even have the donor card in their pocket - but doctors never take advantage of this.

"There is no culture of organ transplantation in our hospitals."

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