The NHS says it is striving to ensure as many organ transplants as possible can go ahead despite the forced closure of several transplant centres amid the Covid crisis.
A report in The Independent says patients are missing out on potentially life-saving transplants because hospital intensive care beds are currently taken up by coronavirus patients.
According to a list provided to the PA news agency by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), 13 out of 68 facilities where various organ transplants are usually carried out are currently fully closed.
A small number of others are either paused for up to 14 days, open for selected patients only, open for “super urgent and urgent cases only”, or partially closed – meaning closed to either deceased or to living donations.
Facilities affected include Guy’s Hospital, the West London Renal & Transplant Centre, and the Royal Free Hospital in the capital, as well as Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and Belfast City Hospital.
The Independent reported there had been a 21% year-to-year drop in the number of transplants carried out within the NHS in 2020 due to first two waves of the pandemic.
This comes after reports hundreds of cancer surgeries had been delayed, also due to beds being taken up by Covid patients.
Citing NHSBT figures, The Independent said more than 350 people died in the UK last year while awaiting a transplant, and that some 6,000 people were currently on the UK’s transplant waiting list.
Teacher Shona McFadyen, who has waited 22 months for a transplant after being diagnosed with liver cancer, said the situation amid the pandemic had made those on the waiting list feel forgotten.
“It’s not the hospital’s fault. I get that. But it just adds to the feeling of hopelessness and it feels like as patients we have been forgotten about. It is life and death for us,” she told the paper.
NHSBT said in a statement every effort was being made to carry out as many transplants as possible, with each organ donation considered on a case-by-case basis.
Transplant units were constantly reassessing their situations amid fluctuations in Covid cases across the country, the statement said, and “doing their best to stay open”.
“Organ donation and transplantation is a highly sensitive, challenging and intense area of NHS work, where time is critical,” said John Forsythe, Medical Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation for NHSBT.
“The current pandemic has brought additional, unprecedented challenges to the donation and transplantation community, as it has for the whole of the NHS.
“However with a great team effort across medical teams, deceased organ donation and transplant activity continued for the most urgent patients during the first wave of Covid-19 and returned to pre-Covid levels in the summer.”
Mr Forsyth said NHS teams were working together “with the shared aim that no opportunity for transplant is missed”.
“While Covid-19 cases continue to rise, especially in areas of the UK with high variant Covid-19 numbers, we have plans in place to continue with deceased organ donation and transplant activity as much as possible and to ensure adequate capacity and resilience within all the teams involved,” he said.
“We have learnt a lot from the first and second waves of the virus and transplants continue to be a priority across the NHS, with safety remaining paramount.”
Mr Forsyth said if a centre reports it is unable to transplant an available organ, the key was to ensure there were other centres that could.
“If an organ is declined by one centre due to capacity, we have systems and procedures in place to identify a suitable alternative centre to ensure that the organ can still go to a patient in need,” he said.