Northern Ireland news

Organs for kidney transplant surgery 'declined' in Northern Ireland due to Covid pressures

Covid pressures are mounting in the Belfast trust, resulting in organs being declined for kidney transplant surgery at the weekend
Seanín Graham

KIDNEY transplants were among life-saving surgeries that could not proceed in the Belfast trust at the weekend as organs were "declined" due to Covid pressures.

The trust today said no patients were actively scheduled for transplant surgery and "therefore no cancellations took place" - but admitted that they could not receive organs from an NHS pool.

The declined organs were used in other transplant operations in hospitals outside of Northern Ireland.

Severe staff shortages, particularly in nursing, and a spike in Covid hospital admissions in the Belfast trust have also led to the cancellation of urgent cancer operations over the past week.

Many trust theatre nurses are being redeployed to intensive care to manage the surge, with 11 critically ill Covid patients in ICU - compared to none a fortnight ago.

The Belfast trust is the regional base for kidney transplant surgery in the north, with life-saving operations normally carried out at Belfast City Hospital.

A record number were carried out during the first wave but the transplant programme was suspended last October.

Kidney transplants resumed in April, with the City used again as the main base for operations for patients from across the north - following its de-escalation as a Nightingale centre.

In a statement, the trust said: "Kidneys are offered to the Belfast Trust through a national pool coordinated by NHS Blood and Transplant.

"Over the weekend Belfast Trust were offered kidneys from within the national pool, however due to Covid pressures we had to decline these organs. The Trust can confirm the kidneys were transplanted elsewhere in the UK.

"No patients were scheduled for this surgery and therefore no cancellations took place. We continue to monitor this situation carefully."

With more than 120 Covid hospital patients currently being treated in the trust, management are trying to increase its number of ICU beds from 38 to 44, resulting in highly skilled staff being taken from other areas.

The Royal College of Surgeons has criticised the trust's decision to cancel some non-Covid surgery and called for more 'green sites' or 'hubs' to enable time-sensitive cancer operations to go ahead.

A trust spokesman added: "The trust is currently in the process of expanding critical care capacity to meet the patient demand in line with the agreed Regional Critical care plan.

"This is only possible by increasing staffing numbers with the appropriate skillset in critical care. We took the difficult decision over the past two weeks to postpone a small number of planned surgeries to create capacity within our staffing teams in theatres, who have the appropriate critical care skillsets, to assist in ICU at this very challenging time."

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