Covid-19: organ transplants fall 30% in 2020

Donnelly intends to bring Bill to Cabinet for ‘opt-out’ organ-donation system

There was a 30 per cent reduction in the number of transplants carried out this year, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE) show.

Between January and December 28th, 2020, there were 190 transplants carried out in the Republic, down from the 274 transplants in 2019.

Kidney was the most common type of transplant, with 123 taking place this year, followed by liver at 37, lung at 16 and heart at nine. There were also five pancreas transplants performed.

The transplants were carried out as a result of donations from 90 individuals, 62 of whom were deceased donors.


Some 590 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Ireland, the HSE said. On average, an estimated 30 people die each year while waiting for a transplant.

Speaking following the publication of the figures, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said organ donation is "among the most selfless gifts" we can give another.

“I sincerely thank the families of deceased donors who at a time of great tragedy found the strength to put the needs of others first. I hope they can take some solace in the relief and joy brought to the 190 organ recipients and their families and friends,” he said.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged the impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on the service, adding it “made it difficult” for hospitals to undertake major surgeries.

“Organ transplantation involves dealing with very sick people who require lengthy surgery and who need round-the-clock care from our intensive care staff. While the number of transplants is lower than the 274 transplants carried out in 2019, it is still a great achievement given the challenges caused by the pandemic,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge the great work of all the staff in the three transplant centres and the intensive care staff in our hospitals for maintaining organ donation and transplantation services despite Covid-19.”

Mr Donnelly confirmed he intends to bring the Human Tissue Bill to Cabinet in 2021; this will provide for a soft “opt-out” organ donation system.

“I also want to confirm additional funding of €0.75 million in 2021 to improve our organ donation and transplant services. This will further develop our National Organ Retrieval Service to be comparable with best international standards,” he said.

“The funding will also ensure that our organ donation services are equipped to meet additional demands following the introduction of the Human Tissue Bill.”

Dr Catherine Motherway, HSE clinical lead on organ donation, expressed gratitude to those families who elected to donate organs and save the lives of other people in this country.

“Following a challenging and difficult year for all our services, we have continued to maintain our organ donation and transplant services in 2020,” she said.

“We will continue to champion organ donation because organ donation saves lives and our achievements this year reflects the generosity of our families and patients and the professionalism of the intensive care, theatre, medical and nursing staff.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times