Northern Ireland

NI kidney transplant programme resumes following suspension last year due to Covid pressures

The regional kidney transplant programme is to begin again at Belfast City Hospital following its suspension last October
The regional kidney transplant programme is to begin again at Belfast City Hospital following its suspension last October

KIDNEY transplants are to resume in Northern Ireland following their suspension six months ago due to coronavirus hospital pressures.

The Irish News has learned that a small number of transplants have taken place in recent months using alternative facilities after the regional programme was "paused" at Belfast City Hospital during the second Covid surge.

In a statement, the Belfast trust confirmed the city hospital will once again be used as the main base for operations for patients from across the north - following its de-escalation as a Nightingale centre earlier this month.

It is understood that transplants using organs from living donors have also started for the first time in over a year.

A trust spokesman said: "Belfast Trust is pleased to announce the recommencement of its renal transplant programme. The NI renal transplant programme was suspended in October 2020, to facilitate the trust’s response and management of the Covid 19 pandemic and surge.

"The recommencement of the renal transplant programme will include participation and ongoing commitment to the UK Kidney Sharing Scheme, the living donor transplant programme and the deceased donor programme.

"This is in line with Belfast Trust service rebuild plans April - June 2021 and will be based upon clinical prioritisation and utilisation of available resources on the Belfast City Hospital site."

During the first lockdown, the trust was lauded for carrying out a record number of transplants - 101 in 101 days from mid-April - despite multiple staff redeployments and at a time when the majority of renal transplant centres closed across the NHS.

Patients on transplant waiting lists -there were around 60 last autumn - were left reeling last year following the programme's suspension.

One patient said they were not just in physical pain as their kidney function deteriorated but were also struggling with the "mental anguish" the delay was causing during the pandemic.

"When you have a transplant ready and have a live donor willing to donate, it's the gold standard treatment. I will have to go for an operation to have dialysis," they said.

"The situation is not evidence based, it's being dictated to by Covid. The transplant will be life-changing for me."

Exceptions were made for 'highly sensitised' patients, for whom it was difficult to find a match.

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of kidney transplants using organs from healthy people in Northern Ireland, rather than those who have passed away.

The success rate of such operations is very high, around 95 per cent, with Belfast last year described as a "world leader" in the field.