Coronavirus could shut Britain's organ donor network

Coronavirus could shut Britain’s organ donor network: Lack of intensive care beds and increased risk to transplant patients sees ‘window of opportunity’ close for hundreds of Britons

  • Organ donations have been largely halted because of lack of intensive car beds
  • Ana-Rose Thorpe, 29, from Manchester, waiting for a life-saving liver transplant
  • She said: ‘They are trying to make it safe for us but we are still terrified of going into hospital. It’s my life – it is a matter of life and death’
  • Transplant surgery has been minimised as hospitals deal with the outbreak 
  • Blood donors are still being encouraged to donate unless they are aged over 70 

Hundreds of gravely ill Britons waiting for organ transplants fear they could die in self-isolation because procedures have largely been stopped because of coronavirus.      

Hospitals have started suspending the life-saving surgery in a desperate attempt to free up beds with operations down from around 80-a-week to less than ten.

Health bosses have warned that the high-risk operations could be scrapped entirely within days as the NHS prepares for a larger surge coronavirus cases. 

A shortage of NHS workers and lack of critical care beds have already seen some hospitals suspend the procedures. Though partly-driven by a desire to protect patients’ health, it will leave many facing an increased risk of death.

Ana-Rose Thorpe, 29, from Manchester, who is waiting for a liver transplant, says the issue is a ‘matter of life and death’ for her because her health is deteriorating at home.

People who undergo organ transplants are immuno-suppressed which leaves them at risk of picking up disease (stock image)

She told the BBC: ‘Having to go into hospital while there are coronavirus patients there is very worrying. This is a window of opportunity for a transplant without the coronavirus. Whilst my body could withstand the transplant, the longer I’m not being monitored, not being seen as often as I was, the longer I leave it, I could just get sicker and sicker.

However, the NHS urges blood donors to continue making appointments as long as they are 70 or under

‘I feel like it’s patients that are already on the transplant list, patients waiting for other operations, we have just been swept aside. It’s not any fault of the NHS, no-one can help what is going on.

‘They are trying to make it safe for us but we are still terrified of going into hospital. It’s my life – it is a matter of life and death’. 

NHS Blood and Transplant said hospitals are having their capacity to carry out donations and transplants affected under the strain of coronavirus.

Professor John Forsythe, Medical Director for Organ Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: ‘As the situation with COVID-19 is ever changing across the country, so is the picture regarding donation and transplantation.

‘Some transplant units have made the difficult decision to close their transplant programmes for now.

‘This to support the NHS in treating COVID-19 patients and other patients needing intensive care.

‘Every potential organ donor on an Intensive Care Unit is being tested for the virus and if someone has COVID-19 they will not be able to donate.

‘NHS capacity to deal with COVID-19 at this time and the safety of organ donation and patients in need of a transplant is paramount.

‘Ensuring the safety of organ donation and transplantation during this pandemic is creating substantial challenges.’

Lifesaving organ transplants are still going ahead on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of local units’ clinical staff.

Blood donations are being encouraged despite the lockdown as they are deemed vital to vulnerable people.

Donors who have had coronavirus or have self-isolated are able to give blood just 14 days after their symptoms have settled.

Those who have had contact with a confirmed case of the virus can still donate as long as they are symptom-free.

However, donors above the age of 70 have been asked to stay at home, in line with government guidelines.  

More people with medical conditions – making them particularly vulnerable to coronavirus – are being added to the Government’s shielding programme, the chief medical officer for England said this week.

Professor Chris Whitty said medical specialists and GPs had helped identify additional patients who were not initially included in the high-risk group, who need special protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Prof Whitty said health authorities had already identified around 1.5 million people who need to have the ‘absolute minimum’ contact with others.

Last month, the Government said people in high-risk categories should exercise shielding measures by staying at home at all times and avoiding any face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks.

Prof Whitty said a first wave of letters informing people they needed to implement measures had been sent, with a second wave due to go out this week.

He said the ‘great majority’ of people at high risk had been identified centrally through medical records.

This focus on clinically vulnerable people, including children, covers those with certain conditions, such as severe asthma, specific cancers, solid organ transplant recipients and pregnant women with significant heart disease.

But Prof Whitty added: ‘There are additional people who have been identified either by specialist medical groups or, in some cases, by GPs, who know that someone has got a group of conditions or a particular condition that isn’t on the list but makes them particularly vulnerable… so some people have been added to the list as a result of that.’

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