NHS Blood and Transplant is warning that that UK’s organ transplant network could be forced to shut down as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, is in desperate need of a liver transplant having lived with hepatitis almost her entire life. She is getting weaker every day, yet Ana-Rose is shielding herself. The corona virus epidemic poses a terrible dilemma. If she was offered a liver transplant, should Ana-Rose risk infection in hospital, or miss out on a life-saving operation?
“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.
“It’s my life – it is a matter of life and death,” Ana-Rose says.
Data from NHS Blood and Transplant, the body that oversees the UK’s organ donation network, shows that the number of transplants carried out each day has plummeted through March. This time last year, more than 80 transplants a week were being carried out. Now only the most urgent operations are still happening, such as liver and heart transplants. And of 23 kidney units in the UK, only 4 are still operating – none of them in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
The medical director for transplant and organ donation at NHSBT, Prof John Forsyth, 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 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.”
The decline in transplants is linked to the pressure Covid-19 is placing on intensive care beds. Organ donators and recipients both need that high level of care – so fewer families of potential donors are being approached, and doctors don’t want vulnerable transplant recipients with suppressed immune systems, alongside infectious Covid-19 patients.
Even in a normal year, around 450 people will die while waiting for a transplant. The sad reality is – that number will probably rise this year as transplants come to a halt. Ana-Rose, and thousands like her, fear they are at risk of becoming the unseen casualties of the corona virus.