Concerns over 35% fall in organ donations


THERE HAS been a dramatic decline in the number of organ donors in the Republic in the last year, with some major teaching hospitals sourcing very few organs for the national transplant service.

The Irish Kidney Association says it is concerned families of potential donors in hospital are not being approached because of staffing shortages and work pressures in intensive care units.

According to the 2010 report of the organ procurement service at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, seen by The Irish Times, just 58 deceased donors gave organs to enable kidney, liver, heart and other transplants last year.

This compares with 90 donors in 2009, a 35 per cent decrease representing the worst decline in organ donation on record. As a result, 92 fewer transplants took place in 2010.

There is particular concern in the transplant community about the poor performance of certain teaching hospitals. Cork University Hospital, one of just two neurosurgical centres in the country, where patients with the most severe head injuries are treated, sourced just one donor last year. In contrast, Beaumont received consent from 14 donor families.

But there is also surprise at the ongoing poor performance of major hospitals such as St Vincent’s and the Mater in Dublin. St Vincent’s has produced an average of just 1.5 donors per annum over a 12-year period.

Commenting on the latest figures, kidney association chief executive Mark Murphy said it appeared hospitals needed help to reverse the trend. “There is a need for at least 12 donor co-ordinators working with staff in intensive care units across the country.

“Overall, 51 fewer people got kidney transplants of either donor kind in 2010 than 2009. So, as we start 2011, we have over 50 more people on dialysis treatment because of the poor transplanting year of 2010 than we did at the start of 2009. That is a whole average-size extra dialysis unit we need as a consequence.”

Latest figures show an additional 704 people have required dialysis here in the last 6½ years.

Calling for all political parties to commit to establishing a national transplant authority as a priority for the next government, Mr Murphy said: “Organ donation in Ireland needs to be refocused and we must move with the times, put it on a proper legal footing and install a national management structure to drive it forward. We have done the research, the public consultations, the audits of intensive care units, the drafting of legislation. All the excuses have been dealt with, the plans exist, we know what we have to do.”

The association has called for policy to be brought into line with other European countries by extending the source of cadaver organs to people who suffer cardiac as well as brain stem death. This would increase donations from the deceased to 150 per annum.