An independent report (the report) clarifying the rules on cadaver solid organ transplants for NHS patients and non-UK EU residents has recently been published. The report was commissioned by former Health Secretary Alan Johnson in the wake of an hysterical media campaign highlighting the number of organs from deceased patients within the NHS going to privately funded non-UK patients. It can be accessed here.

The author of the report, Elisabeth Buggins, former Chair of the Organ Donation Taskforce, emphasised that while she had found no evidence of wrongdoing in the allocation of organs, the perception that private payments might unduly influence access to scarce cadaver transplant organs had damaged confidence in the transplant system. The only solution, she concluded, was to ban such payments.

The report’s recommendations have been broadly accepted by the Department of Health in England and work is underway to secure agreement from the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to ban all privately funded cadaver transplants within the NHS from 1 October 2009, including such transplants into overseas visitors who are fee-paying patients under the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989.

Other recommendations include:

  • Establishing an implementation group to work with NHS Blood and Transplant and transplant commissioners to monitor referrals from overseas.
  • Developing DH guidance for transplant centres to provide clarification on the eligibility criteria for non-UK EU residents.
  • Raising with EU colleagues the need to build capacity and expertise in developing transplant programmes in member states where this does not presently exist or to develop formal reciprocal arrangements between neighbouring countries.

The report’s recommendations will not apply to living organ transplants – largely kidney and parent-child liver transplants.