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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Nigerian dies amid heart battle
Operation
Ms Alabi was told a heart transplant was her only hope of survival.
A Nigerian woman visiting the UK has died during a legal battle to have her moved up the NHS heart transplant list.

Mother of three Ese Elizabeth Alabi, 29, who had to overstay her visa after falling ill, had been given lower priority as a non-EU citizen.

Her lawyer said she was a victim of rules discouraging "health tourism".

The Department of Health said it was a "tragic case" but that priority had to be given to those who were entitled to NHS treatment.

'Fair and reasonable'

Ms Alabi came to Britain in September while pregnant with twins but had a return ticket to go home to have the babies, said her partner and father of the children Abiodun Abe.

But she fell ill and had to give birth in Britain, in February, after which her condition worsened. During this time, her visa expired.

She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart to become enlarged, and was told a heart transplant was her only hope of survival.

No matter whether people are black or white, if they are dying they should be given the support they need
Abiodun Abe

Under new NHS rules Ms Alabi could only be placed on the priority "group two" list, with scores of people ahead of her in the queue.

Mr Abe, of Grays, Essex said he was angry she was not given the support she needed, saying he believed the authorities were "playing with her heart like playing cards".

"I didn't believe something like this could happen in the UK, the country I love so much, " said Mr Abe, who has lawfully lived in Britain for six years.

He told BBC News he was "trying to cope" with what had happened as well as caring for the couple's twin boys Jamal and Jazar, now three months old.

Ms Alabi also has a two-year-old son from a previous relationship, who is being cared for in Nigeria.

"Before Ese died she asked me to have him brought over here. If that could happen I would take care of him too," said Mr Abe.

Allocating organs

A DoH spokesman expressed sympathy for Ms Alabi and her family, calling the case an "extremely sad and difficult process".

He said: "Organs for transplant, and hearts in particular, are extremely scarce and it is necessary to have clear rules to establish priorities in their allocation.

"Whilst no person is wholly excluded from receiving an organ, priority is given to those who are entitled to NHS treatment.

"We believe this to be a lawful, fair and reasonable way of allocating organs and it is clearly supported by those who work in the field."

In a High Court case which began on 6 May, lawyers representing Ms Alabi argued she should be placed on the NHS's priority "group one" transplant list, citing her unusual circumstances.

Her lawyers sought a judicial review of the rules but the case was adjourned pending a request to the Home Office to first allow her exceptional leave to remain in the UK.

Doctors, who had in the meantime assessed her case as urgent, said she would need three years in the UK for follow up treatment to have the best chance of success.

Before the Home Office decision was made her condition deteriorated and doctors said she could not withstand a transplant even if she were to be given a heart. She died in Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, on 15 May.

'Clinical need'

Solicitor Jamie Beagent, of Leigh Day & Co solicitors, who represented Ms Alabi, questioned the lawfulness of the rules that he said discriminated against those not from the EU or from a country with a reciprocal agreement with the UK.

"If Ms Alabi had been from Azerbaijan, for example, she would have been fine but as she was from Nigeria, she was put onto the group two list.

"Clearly the political reasoning behind creating the group two list is to put off health tourism and it's clearly working because she was the only person on the list, even though she would have been considered in the top two or three in the country in terms of clinical need."

He said Ms Alabi was not a so-called health tourist.

"She happened to be here visiting when she fell ill, she was told a heart transplant was the only way of keeping her alive and still the regulations blocked her."

Mr Abe added that he hoped the system could be changed.

"No matter whether people are black or white, if they are dying they should be given the support they need."


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