A charity chief has said it is “devastating” that a Northern Ireland health trust was unable to accept kidneys for life-saving transplant operations due to Covid pressures on hospitals.
The Belfast Trust said it was offered a number of healthy kidneys from deceased donors at the weekend, but had to turn them down because staff had been redeployed to help care for Covid patients.
The trust stressed that no patients had been set up with dates for transplant operations.
It comes as hospitals in Northern Ireland continue to struggle to deal with rising Covid pressures. There are currently 224 Covid positive patients in hospital, of whom 37 are in intensive care.
Last week the Belfast Trust apologised after a number of scheduled cancer surgeries were cancelled in Belfast to free up staff to deal with increasing Covid inpatients.
The pressures continued at the weekend when the trust was unable to accept the healthy kidneys for transplant operations as the surgeries could not be carried out without sufficient staff.
Susan Kee is the chairperson of the Kidney Research Fund NI, a charity which supports and promotes research into the causes, prevention and possible cures for kidney disease.
She said: “Obviously it is not an easy situation we are in – cancer operations have been cancelled because of this pandemic; but at the beginning of this pandemic the transplant team were able to do a record number of transplants.
“I heard this news this morning and it was just devastating. Transplantation is a modern day miracle, you are relying on human nature of people who have donated deceased organs from their family.
“We have an obligation to fulfil that, not turn them down so I can’t understand why transplantation is not given priority.
“It is much cheaper to give someone a transplant than it is to keep them on dialysis. I know it is probably a logistical nightmare but they should have had it sorted out.
A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: “In recent weeks, the regional health and social care system has seen a considerable increase in the number of patients admitted to our hospitals with Covid-19 and, subsequently, a rise in those admitted to ICU.
“The trust are currently in the process of expanding critical care capacity to meet the patient demand in line with the agreed Regional Critical care plan. This is only possible by increasing staffing numbers with the appropriate skillset in critical care.
“We took the difficult decision over the past two weeks to postpone a small number of planned surgeries to create capacity within our staffing teams in theatres, who have the appropriate critical care skillsets, to assist in ICU at this very challenging time.”
The spokesperson added: “Kidneys are offered to the Belfast Trust through a national pool coordinated by NHS Blood and Transplant.
“Over the weekend, Belfast Trust were offered kidneys from within the national pool. However, due to Covid pressures we had to decline these organs.
“The trust can confirm the kidneys were transplanted elsewhere in the UK. No patients were scheduled for this surgery and therefore no cancellations took place.
“We continue to monitor this situation carefully.”
Meanwhile, six more deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Health said there had also been 1,082 new confirmed cases of the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period.
On Tuesday morning there were 224 Covid positive patients in hospital, of whom 37 were in intensive care.