The impact of the pandemic on kidney patients’ prospects of a transplant has been highlighted in the annual activity report released this week by the National Health Blood and Transplant Service (NHSBT).
With transplant operations temporarily suspended in a number of centres in the last year and major disruption to the service, it is perhaps unsurprising that fewer people were able to receive the transplants they so desperately needed.
What is concerning is the scale of the fallout.
The report shows the total number of people who received kidney transplants in the last year fell from 2,466 to 1,931 compared to the previous year, a 22% drop.
The necessary suspension of the Living Kidney Donor Sharing Scheme – where someone donates a kidney to a stranger in lieu of a loved one needing one, who then receives a kidney from another person involved in the scheme to help their family member or friend – formed a huge part of this. The strength of the scheme lies in its lack of geographical borders so that people throughout the UK can benefit. But the chain effect came undone when some centres had to close and surgeons were forced to make difficult decisions about when it was appropriate to carry out the surgery.
Some patients chose not to be transplanted, despite it being the better option, because they were fearful of leaving their homes and undergoing surgery at a time of such uncertainty.
Some patients on the waiting list regrettably had no choice and lost their lives to Covid-19, or to the consequences of living with long-term kidney failure.
“Hearing that 22% fewer people received life-saving kidney transplants last year is deeply saddening,” said Dr Aisling McMahon. “We estimate that there could be over 5,500 people in need of a kidney transplant in the UK, that’s an additional 570 people compared with the same time the previous year.
“Research projects we are funding are set to help make more kidneys available for transplant and more transplants successful in years to come. But there is a clear, immediate need for the Government to prioritise supporting the NHS to address the backlog of patient referrals and reactivate more patients on the waiting list and ensure more kidney patients don’t become the long-term victims of the pandemic.”