"At the moment 20 people die of liver disease for every one that receives a transplant..."
By Dennis Campbell guardian.co.uk
Patients with an unusual blood type who need liver transplants are dying because too few organs are being donated. The problem is affecting people with chronic liver problems who have group B blood.
Livers have to come from people with the same blood type to be suitable for transplantation. Last year 701 Britons of all blood types received a new liver, but 103 others – including an unknown number with type B blood – died because demand outstripped supply.
The plight of those affected is highlighted in today's Observer by Frank Deasy, the Emmy award-winning writer of television dramas including Prime Suspect and The Passion. Deasy, a father-of-three, has liver cancer and will die if he does not get a new organ before his tumour reaches a certain size. But he is among the 10% of the population who have type B blood. Some 46% have type O blood while another 40% have group A.
The average time a group B patient has to wait for a new liver has risen from 92 days in 2004-05 to 152 days at the end of last year. Deasy has been on the waiting list since February.
"This shortage of group B livers is serious because, of the patients listed for a transplant, about 17% – almost one in five – don't get one and die," explained James Neuberger, of the NHS Blood and Transplant agency, which oversees donation and transplantation. "That's very upsetting.
"The shortage of group B livers has been increasing for 10 years and is becoming more acute. Demand for donated livers is growing rapidly because more people are ending up with liver failure, due to increasing problems with alcohol, viral hepatitis and liver cancer, and because advances in surgery mean that more people can now be transplanted."
But the shortage of livers affects people of all blood types, not just group B, Neuberger added. He issued a plea for more people to sign the organ donor register, by which they agree to donate some or all of their organs in the event of their death. Some 16.45 million Britons, or 27% of the population, have done that.
Given the shortage of livers generally, NHSBT tries to allocate them as fairly as possible.
Imogen Shillito of the British Liver Trust, a charity which helps the two million people with liver problems and represents doctors in the field, said: "At the moment 20 people die of liver disease for every one that receives a transplant. With so few organs available, sometimes there will be shortages for less common blood groups. That can cause life-threatening delay, and the British Liver Trust is very concerned about this shortage. We need to see changes of NHS organisation and public attitude to help boost the supply of organs and allow more patients to benefit from transplants."
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