THE vast majority of hearts donated for transplants last year were sent abroad to more suitable patients at a time when 20 Irish people where on waiting lists, two of whom died.
Just over a year after concerns were raised about the number of organs being sent abroad, figures show the situation is continuing to occur with heart donations.
Figures supplied to the Sunday Business Post confirm that seven of the 10 donor hearts provided by families in 2010 were sent outside Ireland to find more suitable recipients, based on blood types and other issues.
Just three heart transplants were performed at the Mater Hospital last year — down from 11 in 2009 — one of the lowest transplantation rates in Europe.
During the same period, two of the 20 patients left on Irish waiting lists died before a suitable donor heart became available.
While acknowledging the health needs of patients in other countries, Irish physicians have raised concerns over why people are being placed on transplant waiting lists while other hearts are being sent abroad.
Jim McCarthy, a cardio-thoracic surgeon at the Mater, said the issue is due to specific matches being needed for a successful donation.
However, he added that the major Dublin hospital has just three transplant doctors on its staff — significantly less than the international recommended five-to-six transplant surgeons for a population of Ireland’s size.
Terry Mangan, chairman of the Irish Donor Network, said that “too many hearts were exported while people awaited transplantation in this country”.
In addition to the heart donations issue, Ireland’s lung transplants have also seen decreases in the past year, with our heart and lung donor levels one of the lowest in Europe.
Due to the heart difficulties, a large number of Irish patients are instead fitted with left ventricular pumps — more commonly known as artificial hearts — which are seen as an effective alternative to transplantation.
The situation emerged as Health Minister Dr James Reilly said he will propose a new “opt-out” organ donation system.
This plan means doctors may automatically be allowed to harvest the organs of a deceased person for the purposes of donation unless the individual has specifically opposed such a move.
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