Transplant queue-jumpers banned

Foreigners will be banned from having organ transplants in the UK as private patients, under new rules being considered by the Government.

Although people from the EU will still be able to join the NHS waiting list for transplants, those paying privately are likely to be stopped from doing so.

The move would apply to all foreigners living outside the UK who wish to pay privately for treatment.

The ban also applies to people from the EU being treated as private patients in the UK owing to financial arrangements between EU governments and individual UK hospitals.

Those contracts will now be agreed on a national basis between the NHS and EU governments, to remove incentives for individual hospitals and surgeons.

The Government in England will seek approval from administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring in the ban in October.

The move comes after a scandal broke out earlier this year when it emerged foreigners were receiving transplants from British donors.

The livers of 50 British NHS donors were transplanted into foreign patients over a two-year period, with the bulk of the operations taking place at King's College Hospital and the Royal Free in London.

Of the patients, 40 were from Greece or Cyprus, while the remainder included patients from non-EU countries such as China, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

Today, Elisabeth Buggins, former chair of the Organ Donation Taskforce, published her independent report into the issue, which was commissioned by former health secretary Alan Johnson.

She said there was no evidence that overseas patients who had paid privately for UK transplants received organs any quicker than British patients on the NHS waiting list.

But she said it was important to improve transparency and not put people off donating their organs after death.

Her recommendations, which have been broadly accepted by the Department of Health, include:

* Banning all private clinical practice in the UK involving solid organs donated after death within the NHS, from October 1, 2009.

* Establishing an implementation group to work with NHS Blood and Transplant and commissioners of transplantation to monitor referrals from overseas;

* Supporting the development of a new liver allocation scheme to build greater transparency into the allocation process.

* Developing Department of Health guidance for transplant centres to provide clarification on the eligibility criteria for people from abroad.

Health minister Ann Keen said: "We accept her recommendations and will now take these forward to ensure a UK system that is fair and transparent and one which patients and potential donors can have trust and confidence in."

Ms Buggins said: "This report seeks to make more organs available for UK residents.

"While I found no evidence of wrongdoing in the way organs are allocated to patients there is a perception that private payments may unfairly influence access to transplant, so they must be banned."

Last year, 3,504 organ transplants were carried out in the UK from 1,844 deceased and living donors.

However, there are currently 8,054 people on the active waiting list for a transplant and a further 2,400 who are currently too ill to join the list.

About 1,000 people a year, or three every day, die while waiting.

Anthony Warrens, spokesman for Kidney Research UK, and a professor of renal and transplantation medicine at Imperial College London, said: "This report highlights the desperate shortage of organ donors, especially for kidneys.

"A total 90 per cent of patients on the waiting list are waiting for a kidney transplant (7,000 patients) and over three million people are at risk of chronic kidney disease."