People who want to donate organs altruistically for transplantation are being forced to go to Northern Ireland because of the lack of a dedicated service here, a charity has claimed.
The Irish Kidney Association says it is referring up to half a dozen people a year to the North because there is no provision in the Republic for altruistic organ donation.
With the number of living donors falling substantially last year for the first time in a decade, it says Ireland should follow the lead of other European countries by setting up a service to cater for the needs of the growing number of dialysis patients.
Forty living donors provided organs under the transplantation programme last year, down from 51 in 2017 and the first substantial fall since records began. At present, most living donor transplants occur within families.
Minister for Health Simon Harris marked the beginning of Organ Donor Awareness Week yesterday by announcing improvements to the expenses paid to living donors. This includes a childcare cost allowance of up to €5,000, the payment of up to €10,000 to self-employed donors for staff costs and the payment of expenses to living liver donors.
The IKA has called for the provision of organ donor nurses in all intensive care units, the introduction of a positive opt-in registry for consent to organ donation and an audit of potential donors in intensive care units.
It has queried Mr Harris’s plans to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation, saying action on the other measures it proposes would do more to increase the supply of donor organs.
Speaking at the launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week, Mr Harris yesterday said he intends to press ahead with the opt-out system, which will form part of the Human Tissue Bill to be published next month.
“The legislation will be accompanied by a publicity campaign, aiming to raise awareness of organ donation and to encourage people to make a decision in relation to organ donation and to share that decision with their loved ones,” Mr Harris said.
The IKA says doctors should be able to access information about the almost one million people whose willingness to donate organs is indicated on their driving licences.
“As the Minister has already proposed the introduction of an opt-out registry, it would be a huge missed opportunity not to utilise the existing record of people who do wish to be organ donors,” says IKA chief executive Mark Murphy. “We have this data, and we’re doing nothing with it.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly has called on Minister for Transport Shane Ross to sign a ministerial order to allow medical professionals access to driving licence details.
In addition to the living donations, the organs of 81 deceased people were transplanted in 2018, resulting in 234 organ transplants.
These included 56 liver transplants and five pancreas transplants carried out at St Vincent’s University Hospital, and 18 heart transplants as well as 28 lung transplants at the Mater hospital. A total of 167 kidney transplants were carried out at Beaumont Hospital, including the 40 living donor kidney transplants.
The total number of organ transplants carried out fell to 274, from 311 in 2017.
About 550 people are currently waiting for a kidney, heart, lung, liver or pancreas transplant.
Mr Murphy urged the public to carry an organ donor card and to have a conversation with their families about their donation wishes after death.