How has the pandemic affected organ donation and transplants?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the UK’s organ donation and transplantation services in two ways.
- It is even less likely that someone will be able to donate their organs when they die.
- There has been a significant reduction in the number of organ transplants taking place.
Why has this happened?
Even though there is no known transmission of coronavirus through organ donation, in most cases donation is not being considered for someone suspected to have, or dying with, the virus. It is also more difficult for medical professionals to have conversations about organ donation with family members due to the distance now in place and difficulties in communicating.
We recognise that the coronavirus outbreak has been a worrying time for patients waiting for transplants. It has been crucial that clinical assessments of risk are undertaken to identify those who require a transplant. Risk of contracting the virus is increased as many post-transplant patients require intensive care and will be on immunosuppressant drugs. For this reason, transplants have only been taking place for those with an urgent need for a life saving transplant.
Most liver centres have been open to urgent and super urgent transplants only.
What is happening now?
Even though there has been a substantial drop in organ donors and transplants taking place we are already seen a rise in the start of May which is an encouraging sign that transplant services will be back in full force again but decisions by each individual hospital and in phases. NHS Blood and Transplant are working closely with centres to help them build up capacity, resources and assess risk in order to ensure activity can return to normal as soon as possible and in the safest way.
Are changes to organ donation law (deemed consent) still being implemented?
As you know, the law around organ donation is changing in England. The Government remains committed to saving as many lives as possible through the gift of organ donation and to ensuring that the legislative process is successfully completed and comes into effect on 20th May. NHS Blood and Transplant are awaiting an update from the Department of Health and Social Care about when the secondary legislation is going before Parliament.
The change to organ donation law in Scotland, Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Act, has been delayed to 2021 to ensure that, once implemented, the legislation can be as successful as possible and ensure NHS staff are trained effectively.
It is important to plan for the future and allow as many transplants to take place as possible as the risk of contracting COVID-19 decreases.
We know many of you are grateful to your/your child’s donor and would support us in sharing the organ donation messages so look out for some posts coming up over the next few weeks. Due to the outbreak, posts and images have been slightly amended due to sensitivity of the issue currently.
If anyone wants to share their story about transplant and/or organ donation please get in touch with Harpreet (Information and Research Hub Manager) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We appreciate this is a worrying time for people waiting for, or those who have received a transplant. For any new and updated information please visit https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/get-involved/news/coronavirus-the-latest-updates/.
Find out more about Max and Keira’s Law here: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/uk-laws/organ-donation-law-in-england/
Find out more about how organ donation saves lives read real life stories here: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/helping-you-to-decide/real-life-stories/.