More than 250 people in Britain have been waiting for a kidney transplant for more than seven years, new figures reveal.
Data from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) show that 266 people in the UK have been waiting more than seven years for a kidney transplant – the average wait is between one and three years.
But it is hoped that more people will be able to receive life-changing transplants sooner thanks to a change in the way that some organs are allocated.
The system for the way kidney donations were allocated changed last year so that those who are hard to match or have been waiting a long time will be given a certain level of priority.
NHSBT said the kidney offering scheme – which allocates kidneys from deceased donors to patients on the waiting list – was changed in September last year to help close the gap on the length of time people wait for a transplant.
It said that since the scheme began, 45% of all kidney transplants performed were for “difficult to match” patients, compared with 37% in the same period the year before.
Patients with previous transplants, those who have had multiple blood transfusions, or those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds can be harder to match.
The transplant authority said that 40% of deceased donor transplants performed between September 2019 and February 2020 were in black, Asian and minority ethnic patients compared with 33% in the same period the previous year, according to figures released to mark World Kidney Day.
On May 20, the law in England will change to an “opt-out” organ donation system which means all adults will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups.
Anthony Clarkson, director of organ donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “The subtle changes to the way that kidneys are offered means it’s now even fairer to those waiting for a transplant.
“We hope that the new law encourages more people to record their donation decision and talk about organ donation with their families and in turn leads to more people donating, meaning more kidneys available for transplant.”
Care Minister Helen Whately said: “Everybody has a role to play – the Government, communities, families and friends – in breaking down myths so donating organs becomes the norm in this country.”
A man who directly benefited from the change in the kidney offering system, Tayo Idowu, received a second kidney transplant after his first failed.
In 2017 tests revealed that a viral infection had caused his first donated kidney to fail and he would need a second transplant.
The 63-year-old, who runs his own graphic design business, was told by doctors that a shortage of black donors – which would have provided a better match – meant he was likely to wait longer for a transplant.
Mr Idowu, from East Dulwich, south-east London, received a second kidney transplant in December 2019 following the changes in the system.
“Transplants are a second chance at life, but you are always aware that any number of factors can bring it to an end,” he said.
“I am incredibly grateful that, not once but twice, a transplant has given me back my health and changed my life.
“I think about both of my donors and have written to their families. It can be difficult to find the right words, but … it felt very important to me to let them know how grateful I am.”
There are currently around 4,800 people in the UK waiting for a kidney transplant – a third of those are from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities.
In 2018/19, 1,600 people in the UK donated their organs after death, resulting in almost 4,000 transplant operations, more than 2,400 of them kidney transplants.
Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said: “If you are on the transplant list then your kidneys are only functioning at around 10% or less.
“You will probably feel unwell most of the time, relying on a machine to keep you alive.
“The fact that almost 300 people have been living like this, waiting desperately on that life changing call for a transplant for over seven years is shocking.
“More education, awareness and support is needed to increase the number of donors from black and minority ethnic communities.”
– For more information on the NHS Organ Donor Register call 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk