Intended for healthcare professionals


Ireland has record fall in number of organ donations

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d982
  1. Muiris Houston
  1. 1Galway

The past year saw a dramatic decline in the number of organ donors in Ireland, with only one or two patients in some major teaching hospitals providing organs for the national transplant service. The Irish Kidney Association says it is concerned that families of potential donors in hospital are not being approached because of staffing shortages and work pressures in the country’s intensive care units.

The annual report of the National Organ Procurement Service shows that in 2010 organs came from just 58 deceased people to enable kidney, liver, heart, and other transplantations to be carried out. This was a third less than the 90 donors in 2009, representing the worst decline in organ donation on record. As a result some 92 fewer transplantations took place in 2010.

The poor performance of certain teaching hospitals has given cause for concern. At Cork University Hospital, one of just two neurosurgical centres in Ireland, where patients with the severest head injuries are treated, just one person donated organs last year. In contrast Beaumont Hospital in Dublin received consent from 14 donor families. But there is also surprise at the ongoing poor performance of some major Dublin hospitals. One, St Vincent’s University Hospital, has obtained an average of just 1.5 donors a year over 12 years.

Commenting on the latest figures, Mark Murphy, chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association, said that hospitals seem to need help to reverse the trend. “There is a need for at least 12 donor coordinators working with staff in intensive care units across the country,” he said.

“Overall 51 less people got kidney transplants of either donor kind (living or deceased) 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.”

Mr Murphy added: “Organ donation in Ireland needs to be refocused, and we must move with the times and 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 also called for transplantation policy in Ireland to be brought into line with that in other European countries by widening the potential sources of organs to include cadavers after cardiac death as well as brain stem donors. It is estimated that such a move would immediately increase the number of deceased donors to 150 a year.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d982

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