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How we built a world class kidney transplant service


From left to right, the Commissioning team responsible for the the review and enhancement of the kidney transplant service in Belfast Trust - Dr Miriam McCarthy, Interim Director of Commissioning, John Russell, Senior Accountant, Finance, HSCB, Veronica Gillen, Acting Assistant Director Commissioning Specialist Services, HSCB and Dr Catherine Coyle, Public Health Consultant, PHA

On World Kidney Day, Thursday 14 March 2019, the Belfast Trust Living Donor Transplant Team was recognised with a UK-wide award for Excellence in Organ Donation and Transplantation.

It is 50 years since the transplant programme was established in Belfast and during that time over 2,400 kidney transplants have been performed on patients ageing from two years to almost 80 years.  From that figure, 661 kidneys have been donated by living donors – this is when a healthy person gives one of their two kidneys to someone who needs a transplant. Remarkably 545 people in Northern Ireland have received this gift of life in the last ten years, often from someone they know, but some from a complete stranger.

This success story is the culmination of partnership working between the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), the Public Health Agency (PHA),  the Belfast Trust and the Department of Health (DoH).

In 2011, the HSCB commissioned an external review of the transplant service and subsequently invested £2.1m to implement a wide range of recommendations including enhancing the surgical team, expanding theatre capacity, strengthening multidisciplinary team working and laboratory support.

Prior to the enhancement of the transplant service, the number of patients requiring dialysis was expected to grow by up to 40 patients per year.  Instead the number has fallen from 817 adult dialysis patients in February 2009 to 699 in December 2018.

Before 2010, transplant numbers were around 8 per year in Northern Ireland.  A total of 132 kidney transplants (including live donations, donation after cardiac death and donation after brain death) were undertaken by from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, against a Ministerial target to deliver 80 by March 2018.  The rate of living donor kidney transplants in Northern Ireland is now consistently the highest in the United Kingdom.

Commending the Belfast Trust team on their success, Dr Miriam McCarthy, Interim Director of Commissioning, Health and Social Care Board said:

“On behalf of the Board, I wish to commend this team of experts on their continued achievements.  We have a tremendously high quality renal transplant programme here in Northern Ireland, coupled with an exceptional Surgical Transplant Team.  The investment provided by the HSCB has supported the transformation of the renal transplant service and has improved the day to day lives of the people who have received transplants and their families.

Further information about organ donation in Northern Ireland, including useful resources, FAQs, videos and how to join the Organ Donor Register is available at: https://www.organdonationni.info/  or  http://www.donatelife.co.uk/