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Promoting cornea donation

St Nicholas Hospice Care

Promoting cornea donation

If successful, the project estimates 220 donated corneas a year would halve the national deficit.

The St Nicholas Hospice Care team was shortlisted and highly commended for the Palliative and Hospice category at The BMJ Awards 2017. We spoke with the team leader, Sarah Mollart, to learn how the award has impacted the project, and what lies in store.

Corneal disease and injury are a major cause of blindness in the UK. Although transplants can restore vision, they are limited due to a cornea shortage. It is estimated that half of hospice patients are eligible for donation, but only a small contingent opt to do so despite the public being in favour of donation. At St Nicholas Hospice Care (SNHC), like at most other hospices, this discrepancy is due to patients and families not being informed about donation. Sarah Mollart came to realise that 40-60 corneas could be made available for transplant from SNHC patients alone, and so endeavored to rectify this dearth of cornea donations.

Although the staff knew it was incumbent on them to discuss cornea donation to patients, many lacked the experience and training to discuss the topic. Some felt apprehensive about doing so in case of offending patients. The team identified these barriers and tackled the issue with a fresh approach by designing a cornea donation service. This involved evaluating the impact of the service on the well-being of their patients and compiling information from patients on whether the service was causing distress.

Since July of 2015, all inpatients are screened for corneal donation eligibility and subsequently presented the option of donation at an appropriate opportunity should they be eligible for a transplant. Patients are provided with information leaflets detailing what corneal donation involves to ensure all inquiries are addressed. Over the first 16 months of the intervention, there were 31 donations (62 corneas) which meant the SNHC patient’s contributions fulfilled more than 10% of the entire national cornea deficit. If plans to replicate the practice are realised in the neighbouring hospital, their estimate of 220 corneas a year would halve the national deficit.

Speaking with Sarah, we were told many people have been in touch since The BMJ Awards, including three key staff from a major London eye hospital.

“Team from Cambridge, Oxford and Yorkshire have been touch, but I’ll be speaking specifically with various doctors who are keen to find out more in the London area. Then I’ll visit a study day in Brighton, where I’ll talk to all the specialty doctors who work in hospices in that area. I’ve also been asked to speak at the Hospice UK conference”.

Sarah and her team are also going to be a part of a multi-centre research project – “I certainly wouldn’t have been a part of it if it wasn’t for the awards. ‘It’s all very exciting, and The BMJ Awards have really been a key springboard for it”.

Although it’s proving to be a challenge to roll out to other centres, the progress Sarah and her team have achieved since The BMJ Awards is incredible; she can certainly see a bright future for cornea donation.

Now in their ninth year, The BMJ Awards celebrate the inspirational work done by healthcare teams. You can be a part of this inspirational and humbling evening by submitting your project for an award or sponsoring a category. For more information, please contact David Bell.