Shortage of surgeons threatens transplants transplants

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A shortage of consultants is threatening a crisis in transplant surgery, doctors' representatives warned yesterday.

A shortage of consultants is threatening a crisis in transplant surgery, doctors' representatives warned yesterday.

The problem is particularly acute in renal medicine and there are fears that it is only a matter of time before viable donated kidneys have to be discarded because no one can be found to perform an operation.

Senior consultants met officials from the Department of Health and the NHS yesterday to call for changes to working conditions to encourage more young doctors to go into transplantation.

They warned that jobs were going unfilled in transplant units across Britain. One hospital in Plymouth had to advertise three times for a consultant renal surgeon before finding an appropriate candidate.

The shortage has come about largely because of the long and unpredictable hours worked by renal transplant surgeons, said John Forsythe, vice-president of the British Transplantation Society.

Many hospitals have very small units, with as few as two surgeons. Because organs must be used swiftly after they become available, it means surgeons often being called out during the night and weekends.

Mr Forsythe told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We have been aware of a problem in recruitment for some time but it has been brought into sharp focus in the last little while because of a realisation that jobs are unfilled in some of the units in the UK.

"With increased regulation to do with hours of work, the European Working Time Directive and the new consultant contract, this problem is going to get worse.

"There was a unanimous vote at the end of yesterday's meeting saying the present situation is unsustainable. Potentially, there could be the effect that our transplant units are not open all the time and the possibility that organs will not be used.

"At the moment, there's no evidence that's happened. We are trying in a professional way to plan for the future before such a drastic thing occurs."

Doctors' representatives would like to see more money for transplant specialists.

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