Patients lose out on pancreas transplants because of shortage in specialist cover
Up to 12 patients desperate for a pancreas transplant have suffered the crushing disappointment of losing out on the vital operation because of a lack of medical cover.
The patients were devastated after learning a potential transplant could not go ahead at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin when a donor organ was offered.
The unit operates from Monday to Friday and is without cover for essential medical back-up, including anaesthetic care, over the weekend.
Mark Murphy, chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association, confirmed yesterday that about 12 potential transplants had not been able to go ahead so far this year.
He said just three transplants had gone ahead in 2019, although the waiting list for a new pancreas has between 20 to 25 patients needing the operation.
It means that a pancreas, which was donated by the loved ones of a person who had died, couldn't be used.
A pancreas transplant needs to be carried out as soon as possible after a donor organ becomes available.
Mr Murphy said that although a pancreas transplant was not life-saving, it allowed a patient who had diabetes to be insulin-free and enjoy a better quality of life. "It is normally performed with a kidney transplant," he said.
Patients who are on a waiting list for pancreas and kidney transplant have to wait for the suitable organs to come through.
They cannot avail of a kidney from a live donor, which limits their chances of getting the transplant, he said.
The service level agreement with St Vincent's Hospital was to deliver a round-the-clock service in the pancreas transplant unit.
A spokeswoman for St Vincent's Hospital said yesterday: "Pancreas transplant surgery is complex and is currently undertaken Monday to Friday in our hospital.
"We are currently reviewing the resource requirements of the programme to ensure we continue to meet patient need."
She said the pancreas transplant programme had been established in St Vincent's in 2016.
"We provide a consultant-led pancreas transplant programme and our multidisciplinary team consists of transplant surgeons, nephrologists, endocrinologists, anaesthetists, transplant coordinators and other allied health professionals," the spokeswoman said.
"The programme starts with referral of the potential recipient and follows through assessment and decision making to listing and waiting for a suitable organ, transplantation and post-operative follow up.
"No pancreas is retrieved from a donor without a number of criteria being met, for example suitability for transplant, availability of suitable recipient, availability of hospital resources and so on.
"Only when these criteria are met is the organ retrieved from the donor."
The kidney is transplanted at Beaumont Hospital and the pancreas in St Vincent's.
The slow rate of transplants is another blow following the failure to carry out any of these operations for more than two years following the retirement of surgeon David Hickey in late 2014.
When he was health minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said "given the limited number of surgeons who specialise in transplantation, the filling of such vacancies poses a challenge".