A drop in the number of lung transplants being carried out in the Republic is "deeply worrying", says Cystic Fibrosis Ireland chief executive Philip Watt.
Inevitably, the whole organ transplant programme has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the lung transplant service has suffered particularly badly. The overall transplant rate was down by 32 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019, but lung transplants fell by 58.2 per cent.
“The Covid pandemic has had a significant adverse effect due to capacity constraints within the health service,” says a spokesperson for the Mater hospital, which hosts the national heart and lung transplant service. Sixteen lung transplants were performed in 2020, compared with 38 the previous year.
The overall organ donation rate was down 20 per cent in 2020, according to the latest annual report of Organ Donation Transplant Ireland. Last January, the National Office of Clinical Audit (Noca) published a study that recommended the development of a potential donor audit, to try to identify missed organ donation opportunities in hospitals and then use this information to increase donation rates.
Organ donation rates
Out of 72 countries worldwide, Ireland ranks 28th in organ donation rates, according to Noca. Before the pandemic, our rate of organ donation was 18 per million population compared with Spain at 49 per million population.
There are more than 600 people in the Republic awaiting organ transplants. In spring of next year, Northern Ireland will move organ donation to an "opt out" system, ie presuming people are willing to donate organs unless they or their families have signalled otherwise, but the Republic has merely talked about doing that for years, with the drafting of legislation yet to be completed.
There is no one solution to driving up the numbers of transplants, says Watt. There needs to better investment in infrastructure, enacting of the Human Tissue Bill to introduce soft opt-out organ donation and also annual audits to see what is going on in individual hospitals.
“The quality side of things needs to be investigated further in our view,” he adds.