Outrage over NHS organ donations sold to foreigners
The liver transplants took place at NHS hospitals, despite severe shortages that mean many British patients die while waiting for an organ that could save their lives.
The documents disclose that 40 patients from Greece and Cyprus received liver transplants in the UK paid for by their governments. Donated livers were also given to people from non-European Union countries including Libya, the United Arab Emirates, China and Israel.
The surgeons who carry out the transplants receive a share of the operation fee — believed to be about £20,000 — as all the work is done privately in NHS hospitals.
It comes as a record 8,000 Britons are on NHS lists waiting for transplant organs. About 260 British patients are waiting for a liver.
Last week leading transplant surgeons and patient groups called for an end to the practice. Professor Peter Friend, president of the British Transplantation Society, said it was unethical to give organs to people from abroad while British patients were dying.
“While there is a surfeit of UK residents awaiting transplant it is correct that these patients should have priority,” he said. “Were the situation such that there were organs that were not required, it would be appropriate to make them available to other nationals.
“We do not have a European organ donation system; it is a UK system and I therefore feel that . . . the system is there essentially for the benefit of residents in the UK.”
The Healthcare Commission, a watchdog body, conducted brief inquiries last summer after being alerted to the practice at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London, but decided it was not breaking any rules. It referred the matter to the Department of Health.
The documents show that another hospital, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London, has also carried out four liver transplants on foreign patients in the past year, the most recent being in November.
Despite the criticism, King’s College hospital said last week that it would be “business as usual” and surgeons would continue to give British organs to overseas patients in private operations.
The hospital gave livers from British donors to 19 overseas patients last year.
Under European law , patients from member states have a right to seek treatment in other European countries. Britain is not obliged to treat these patients, however, and the decision is left to individual hospital trusts.
Some leading transplant hospitals refuse to carry out such operations. Dr Mervyn Davies, a consultant hepatologist at St James’s University hospital in Leeds, which does not carry out private transplants on overseas patients, said: “There is a shortage of donors and we cannot cater for the whole of the EU.
“It is tragic for these patients but the system that we have cannot cope with the UK demand as it is. Extending that to the whole of the EU and beyond we consider is inappropriate.”