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Transplant research critical beyond COVID-19 disruption

23 July 2020

The latest annual transplantation report produced by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has confirmed the number of organ transplants taking place suddenly dropped when COVID-19 hit the UK in March 2020.  

Before transplant centres were forced to close the number of transplants were on track to top the previous year’s numbers, continuing the upward trend of the last decade. This enforced closure resulted in the net effect of fewer kidney transplants over the 12 month period of April 2019 to March 2020, compared with the previous year.

Massive impact of pandemic

The very latest figures from NHSBT show the pandemic has had a massive impact beyond March; 259 fewer kidney transplants took place from deceased donors since April 2020 compared with the same period last year. And just three live donor kidney transplants took place between April and June 2020. 

This news comes almost three months after the new organ donation legislation came into effect, where people who do not wish to be considered as organ donors after they die now need to actively ‘opt out’. 

Selfless families made a huge difference

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHSBT, said: “It’s wonderful to see that we were, once again, on track to surpass the number of organ donors in 2019/20 than the previous year before COVID-19 hit. This is testament to the selfless families who agreed to donate their loved one’s organs in the most tragic of circumstances. 

“It is disappointing but inevitable that donation and transplantation has been impacted by the worldwide pandemic. What is incredible though is that throughout this crisis, we have continued to see such strong support for organ donation and the most urgent transplants have still gone ahead and saved the lives of desperately ill adults and children. 

“We are, along with our fantastic NHS colleagues, focused on the continued recovery of this immensely important work, which brings comfort to grieving families and gives people another chance at life. As we learn to live with COVID-19 and boosted by the new law and growing public support, we hope more lives than ever before can be saved.” 

Don’t let progress stall

Here at Kidney Research UK we are committed to the bigger picture more transplants should take place and they must last longer. Research is vital to make this ambition a reality. 

"It is good news that the number of successful transplants was increasing up to March this year, but it is so frustrating that the pandemic is still causing delays for so many kidney patients, commented Dr Aisling McMahon, Executive Director of Research, Innovation and Policy at Kidney Research UK. 

Once our health system and our research are back on track we will help move the general trend of transplantation progress on from ‘slow and steady’. Patients should not face an extended wait for life-saving operations. We must increase the number of organs available for transplantwhich includes rescuing organs previously thought unsuitable, make transplanted organs last longer and improve the quality of life for people beyond their transplant. Research and collaboration are vital so, together with the British Transplantation Society and NHS Blood & Transplant, we are a founding partner of the new UK Organ Donation and Transplantation Research Network  

The experts are in place, and ready to make this happen when we emerge from the challenging times we face right now. Only with more support from government will transplant services and research resume more quickly, and will our ambitions to make a difference to more lives, faster, be realised. 


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