THE UK’s organ transplant network could be forced to shut down as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the body that runs the scheme is warning, 450 people a year die in the UK waiting for an organ transplant and that figure could easily treble.
One factor is the pressure on intensive care beds, according to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), but there is also the risk to transplant patients, who have their immune systems suppressed so their bodies don’t reject new organs. The danger is they contract the virus while in hospital waiting for the transplant, a tragic situation that is already starting to happen.
Here is the story of just one patient, there are hundreds more…
Now aged 29, Ana-Rose (pic below) has lived with hepatitis almost her entire life after contracting it as a baby. The disease has taken its toll and now her liver is failing and she is in desperate need of a transplant.
“Having to go into hospital while there are coronavirus patients there is very worrying,” she says. “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. 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,” Ana-Rose says.
The pressure on intensive care
Since the beginning of March, the number of transplants has fallen dramatically. This time last year more than 80 transplants were being carried out each week in the UK, only a handful of the most urgent cases mainly heart and liver are going ahead.
Prof John Forsyth, medical director for transplant and organ donation at NHSBT, admits the system may struggle to operate while the epidemic continues.
“When I hear from other countries who have been at the centre of this Covid-19 pandemic, they have got to the point where no transplant is possible in certain regions at all.
“We may get to that point, and we may get to that point in the next days or weeks.
“But we are working very hard to keep organ donation and transplant open for as long as possible, accepting the safety of our patients is paramount.”