Irish lung transplant unit hopes hit by delays

THE State’s controversial lung swap agreement with an English hospital may have to continue indefinitely as delays prevent the completion of the country’s own transplant unit.

Two or three lung transplants a year will be carried out at the Mater Hospital in Dublin when the transplant unit under development there begins performing surgery on a restricted basis later this year but there is a demand for at least 20 a year.

Cystic fibrosis sufferer Billy Burke, who has fallen between the cracks of the inter-country agreement said last night the only solution was to have an Irish-based transplant service.

“If we had a lung transplant programme up and running in this country, there would be no problem. That’s why I feel the Irish Government has to take responsibility,” the 29-year-old Kerryman said.

Under the current contract with the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle the aim is to perform 15 transplants per year on Irish patients but the Mater Hospital cannot hope to match even that level of activity until it has dedicated transplant operating theatres.

To carry out transplants from this September, three years later than scheduled, it will have to rely on existing operating theatres and borrowed theatre staff who are already in high demand because the hospital is the country’s leading heart surgery facility.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said last night the Mater had received approval to clear the site for the intended additional theatres but there was “no exact time-frame” on when the full facilities would be provided.

“The Department is looking at a five-year investment framework programme and the Mater is one of the projects that would be considered as part of that,” the spokeswoman said.

Aspects of the contract with Freeman are being examined as part of an annual mid-year review but no major changes are expected in the absence of an Irish-based alternative.

Meanwhile, Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, which accepted Billy on to its transplant waiting list after doctors at Freeman Hospital reviewed his case and declared him an unsuitable candidate, said last night it had 35 people like Billy on its books, all awaiting double lung transplants.

Billy’s supporters have called on the Freeman to release one of the sets of donor lungs it receives from Ireland to allow Wythenshawe carry out the transplant, but the Manchester hospital said it could not accept a direct organ transfer from another hospital under the terms of the national organ pooling system that operates in Britain.

Hospital spokeswoman, Caroline Johnson, said: “Mr Burke is subject to these normal arrangements and will have the same priority as other patients on our transplant waiting list.”

Billy said, however, he did not expect the same priority as other patients at Wythenshawe given he was only on the hospital’s books for a matter of months after Freeman removed him from its waiting list.

“It’s difficult for them to put my case ahead of somebody they have waiting for a year or two years. It doesn’t reflect the fact that I have been waiting for three and a half years in total.”

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