Sunday, July 26, 2009

British surgeons banned from using National Health Service organs in private transplants

By Martin Delgado Daily Mail

Hospitals will be banned from using NHS organs in private transplant operations under new rules being drawn up by the Government.

The move follows a Mail on Sunday investigation last year which found that surgeons were making up to £20,000 ($32,866 US) a time by operating on private patients from abroad, despite a critical shortage of organs to save the lives of desperately sick people on the British transplant waiting list.

A wide-ranging four-month review by an influential committee of experts has concluded the practice should stop because it is undermining public confidence in the national transplant service.

The reform will be welcomed by patient groups, who say financial considerations should play no role in deciding who receives a donor organ.

Three people die in this country every day while waiting for a transplant. Yet hundreds of British organs have been given to overseas patients in private operations at NHS hospitals – 50 in the past two years alone.

The review was led by Elisabeth Buggins, chairman of West Midlands Strategic Health Authority and a former head of the Government’s Organ Donation Task Force.

She was brought in by then Health Secretary Alan Johnson after this newspaper revealed that one leading hospital, King’s College in London, was giving NHS livers to private Greek and Cypriot patients under a deal struck with their governments, even though there was a waiting list of 400 Britons in critical need of livers.

Five such operations at King’s in a 12-month period were performed by Professor Nigel Heaton, footballer George Best’s former transplant surgeon, earning him up to £100,000 ($164,330 US) on top of his NHS salary of around £200,000 ($328,660 US).

Between January 2003 and December 2007, 111 liver transplants were carried out across the country on European Union patients from outside Britain – 72 of them at King’s. Of those, 47 were from Greece or Cyprus.

Prof Heaton, 54, who lives in a £1million ($1.65 million US) house in Beckenham, Kent, is a controversial figure.

In 2002, he was criticised over his decision to give George Best a liver transplant even though the alcoholic football star ignored warnings that his continued drinking was destroying his health. Best died from multiple organ failure three years after the operation.

Mrs Buggins began her review in March and has had confidential discussions with transplant surgeons and other experts to gain as wide a range of medical opinion as possible on what she has called a ‘complex and sensitive’ issue.

The Government is understood to have accepted her recommendations and Health Secretary Andy Burnham is expected to make an announcement this week.

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