National organ shortage is leading to the use of more 'high risk' donors, say health chiefs

Donor card

Medics are being forced to use organs from 'high risk' donors for transplantations due to the shortage

A massive shortage of organs for transplant means more 'high risk' donors are being used than ever before, health chiefs have admitted.

Body parts are being accepted from the elderly and patients with a history of cancer or drug abuse to cut long waiting lists. 

The use of high-risk donors has doubled in ten years, from 13 to 26 per cent of transplants. 

But the policy can have tragic results, with some recipients dying or left traumatised by poor quality organs.

Surgeons accept higher-risk donors are being used, but point out that three of the 10,000 Britons on a waiting list die every day. 

Professor James Neuberger, medical director of NHS Blood and Transplant said: 'There is no doubt that if we had more donors, we could be a lot more selective about those used.

'In some cases this is completely safe but we're seeing organs from higher risk donors used in order to meet the growing need for transplantation.'

Mr Neuberger added that in an ideal world surgeons would not use organs that carried added risks but the alternative was more deaths of patients on the waiting lists.

Some surgeons attribute the declining quality of organs to a drop in the number young healthy donors killed in accidents.

Simon Bramhall, who carries out liver transplants at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, said seat belt laws and road safety improvements in recent years had reduced the supply of organs from young healthy donors dying in accidents.

He said: 'I've taken organs from a number of donors in their 80s and transplanted them successfully.

The surgeon added that 'beggars can't be choosers' but admitted donors were getting 'older and fatter' and they are sicker with problems such as heart disease, lung disease and even kidney disease.

One patient, who would not be named, told Radio 4 programme, File on 4, she had been given a kidney which turned out to be cancerous and had to be removed.

Surgeon
Organ

Shortage: Experts say they would be 'more selective' about which transplant donors they select if they had more organs to choose from

Left traumatised, she did not go back on the waiting list.

She said: 'I felt as though my life had been ruined, I felt destroyed, my family was destroyed, my husband has to care for me now.

'When I was on dialysis before I was coping, now dialysis before I was coping, now dialysis is worse.'

Tim Statham, chief executive of the National Kidney Federation, said it was 'vital and essential' that recipients were told the truth about the condition of any organ they were offered, as far as it was known.

He said 'But donor organs have to be taken in a matter of hours and it may not be possible to know everything about the donor.

'I believe most donors would accept an organ that is not optimal rather than dying, and this is the option that many patients face.

'Wherever possible they should be given full information but we don't live in an ideal world and their options are already limited.

'We need more people to sign up as potential donors, given that surveys show most would accept a donated organ' he added.

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: 'Put simply, supply just isn’t meeting demand.

'While we are sure that clinicians are doing their best when allocating organs, the Trust firmly believes that patients have a right to be given a better understanding on how decisions on their prospective organ are made.'

A spokesman for UK Blood and Transplant said: 'In a situation where there are not nearly enough organs available for the number of transplants required, it often comes down to a balance of risk and benefit.

'Surgeons are always making judgements about the suitability of donated organs and are faced with the dilemma that - for example - more patients would die if they didn't receive a transplant at all.

'Ultimately this is a decision for the clinician, the patient and their family.'

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