East Anglia: Charity appeals for people to make more transplants possible

THE number of kidney transplants from living donors in East Anglia has dropped by 11.2% in the past year, a charity has revealed.

Kidney Research UK voiced its concern at the figures last night, and claimed that increasing competition from websites – which allow patients to make an emotional online plea for organs – could further hit NHS donations in Britain. According to the charity, the number of people in East Anglia choosing to donate a kidney while they are still alive has fallen by 11.2%, while transplants from deceased donors has increased by around 1%, in line with the national trend.

The organisation is calling for more living donors, including older people, to consider giving the gift of a kidney either to a relative or to a stranger.

Using the current NHS system, patients have no say in who receives their kidney, which is confidentially delivered to the person deemed most in need. For living donors, no money can be paid for a kidney, but the donor can receive expenses.

While Kidney Research UK is keen to encourage new donors, the charity’s east of England fundraiser, Henry Kimbell, said he would have “serious concerns about any system that introduced an element of competition to the organ donation process”.

At the end of 2010, there were 316 people in Suffolk undergoing some form of renal replacement therapy as a result of kidney failure, and at the beginning of this year, 570 people in the east of England were awaiting a kidney transplant. Nationally, around 7,000 need a transplant, but because of the severe shortage of registered donors, only around 2,700 of these operations are carried out each year.

For deceased donors, Kidney Research UK supports a system of presumed consent, where a patient has to ‘opt out’ of being a donor. Mr Kimbell believes other measures needed to boost donation rates include more intensive care beds, transplant co-ordinators in every hospital and efficient local systems for auditing potential donors. He said: “In addition, we would like to see greater use of living donors, including related and non-related donation, and a greater use of older donors.

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“However, we do not believe that compensating people for donating an organ over and above expenses is the correct approach to increasing this gift of life.”

Although he feels more emphasis should be placed on improving public awareness about donation methods, Mr Kimbell believes the current NHS system for altruistic donation (donating without any personal gain) is the right approach.

The charity does not support donor matching websites. But Mr Kimbell added: “We have an allocation system in this country which is rightly geared towards ensuring organs go to those who need them the most, not the person who can put together the most compelling pitch.”

All transplant units in the UK carry out living donor kidney transplants. The national allocation scheme uses a computerised protocol to allocate a kidney to an individual patient based on blood group, tissue matching and time spent on the waiting list. This scheme ensures that all patients are treated as fairly as possible.

According to NHS data, long-term health is not affected by kidney donation and this is one reason why the UK renal community is keen to increase the number of living donors. Kidney Research UK advises anyone interested in donating a kidney altruistically to contact the living donor co-ordinator nursing team at their nearest kidney transplant centre.