New data published on organ donation and transplant services during the pandemic.

Posted on: 15th July 2021

New data published today by NHS Blood and Transplant shines a light on how many people donated organs and how many transplants took place between April 2020 and March 2021. 1,180 people in the UK donated their organs after they died last year[1], saving or improving the lives of 3,391 transplant recipients.

The report highlights the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic caused the UK transplantation programme. Concerns about the ability to care for transplant recipients, lack of access to resource due to it being used for patients in the pandemic, and the risk versus benefit for immunosuppressed transplant recipients, resulted in a major reduction in the number of organ transplants that took place compared to the previous year. As a result of Covid there was a 25% decrease in donors.

Key findings in the report relating to liver disease include:

  • From April 2020 to March 2021, 776 liver transplants took place. This compared with 950 in the previous year, a decrease of 18%.
  • There are currently 11,000 people living with a liver transplant in the UK.
  • The number of patients on the active liver transplant list at 31 March 2021 was 123, a decrease of 74% from 2020. This was due to the suspension of non-clinically urgent patients and most of these have now been put back on the waiting list.
  • 1,617 people were listed on the liver transplant waiting list during the year. 767 of these had a transplant, 599 remain on the list, 183 were removed from the list and sadly 68 died.
  • There was an increase in the number of opt-in registrations on the NHS Organ Donor Register from 26.0 to 26.7 million at the end of March 2021.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, commenting on the report, said: “The transplant centres across the UK faced unprecedented challenges during a year of tremendous uncertainty and did an amazing job ensuring as many transplants as possible took place. It’s good news that transplant rates have now recovered to pre-Covid levels. However, there’s still much more work to be done. Sadly, around one in ten people die or have to be removed from the liver waiting list before they receive a transplant because their condition has deteriorated.

“The report also highlights how more people are supporting organ donation and we would like to thank all the families of donors on behalf of liver disease recipients. Donors really do provide the gift of life and even though there is now an opt-out system it is still really important that everyone lets their loved ones know their wishes in relation to organ donation. This gives them the certainty to support your decision at a difficult time, as families are still involved before organ donation goes ahead.”

[1] From April 2020 to March 2021