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Transplant services placed in peril by Covid-19

By Catherine Reilly - 30th Mar 2020

Transplant services in Ireland, and other countries, are in peril due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Irish Government’s action plan on Covid-19 commits to ensuring ongoing services for vital specialties including organ transplant.

However, on 24 March, the HSE confirmed to the Medical Independent (MI) that renal transplants at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, had been “paused”.

This decision was taken by the renal transplant service after “careful consideration” of the issues involved.

The HSE said “all necessary action” was being taken to ensure that organ donation and transplant services continued “in so far as practically possible”. Multi-centre multidisciplinary team meetings were being held regularly on these matters.

On 25 March, St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin (which conducts pancreas and liver transplants) said “critical transplant surgeries” continue when suitable donors become available. A response was awaited from the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin (which conducts heart and lung transplants) at press time.

Information issued on 12 March by the British Transplantation Society stated that the decision to undertake transplant during the outbreak “will need to be made on a case-by-case basis where the risk of infection at a time of peak immunosuppression must be balanced against the risk of organ failure or treatment of organ failure”.

Speaking to MI on 18 March, Irish Kidney Association CEO Mr Mark Murphy said if ICUs became overwhelmed they would not be able to manage donors “and no-one would expect them to”.

He was also greatly concerned about Covid-19’s potential impact on dialysis services. “The demands on the dialysis services could
be immense.”

As of December, 1,925 adult patients were receiving haemodialysis in units nationally (including six in Northern Ireland).

The HSE confirmed to MI it has procured a facility to deliver dialysis treatment in isolation rooms. “This is to facilitate treatment of Covid-19 patient care both for dialysis patients and for patients that develop acute kidney injury in the setting of Covid-19 infection.

“Covid-19 testing will be done on dialysis patients as clinically appropriate. At present, the plan is that patients with Covid-19 illness would be dialysed in isolation.

“This may change as the rate of infection increases. It may be necessary if the number of patients on dialysis with Covid-19 is greater than isolation capacity in specific units, to cohort infected patients to specific dialysis shifts.”

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