Government to ban private transplants

By Liz Stephens

The government is to ban all private transplants of organs from dead donors in the UK.

An independent inquiry said the public needed to be confident that organs were allocated fairly following media reports of overseas patients paying to receive organs donated by UK citizens.

Transplant surgeons said the ban would reassure the public that organs will go to those in greatest need.

It has emerged that more than 700 transplants were carried out on non-UK patients in the past decade. It is unknown how many of those were paid for privately.

The inquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing in how organs were allocated to those patients, but concluded that in the interests of fairness no one should be able to pay for such operations.

Chair of the inquiry Elisabeth Buggins, former chairwoman of the Organ Donation Taskforce, said: “There is a perception that private payments may unfairly influence access to transplant, so they must be banned.

“Confidence in the transplant system should increase once money is removed from the equation.”

Lynda Hamlyn, chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, welcomed the proposals.

“In a situation where there are not enough organs to treat the citizens of the very country donating them, the priority must be to ensure a fair and open system of allocation,” she said.

More than 10,000 people are currently on the transplant waiting list but about 1,000 people die waiting every year due to a lack of organs.

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern, also hailed the inquiry’s findings, saying: “Why should we sign up as organ donors if our organs can then be sold to the highest bidder?

“The law rightly prevents us from selling our own organs, so it is an outrage that hospitals can boost their income by doing so, while UK residents die for lack of organs.”

The inquiry also recommended that rules on which EU citizens are entitled to transplants on the NHS should be tightened.

Under EU law, patients can receive treatment in other countries if their healthcare system agrees to foot the bill.

The NHS needs to be more cautious when checking eligibility under these rules and any reciprocal arrangements with transplant networks in other countries need to be reviewed, Ms Buggins said.

Health minister Ann Keen said the Department of Health would implement the recommendations to ensure a UK system that is “fair and transparent”.

She added: “The report highlights the complexity of European law in this area and we will take immediate action to provide guidance for the transplant community and reassure the public of the integrity of our transplant programme.”

Surgeons will still be able to carry out private work using organs from living donors.