There are plans to adapt the current organ donor cards to include skin, but 'live' donors who are having skin removed in cosmetic operations will also be asked if they would agree to donate their tissue, surgeons said.
The skin bank and research unit, which is due to open in May and is expected to be self- financing, will be based at the Queen Mary's University hospital in Roehampton, south- west London, where there is an internationally-famous burns unit with a helicopter facility to transport skin to other parts of Britain or bring patients to the hospital. Estimated costs for the unit are about pounds 200,000, half of which has been raised, with the remainder to come from an appeal launched yesterday.
The initiative comes after the death of Stephen Kirby, 48, who died this year at Queen Mary's after suffering burns to 95 per cent of his body in an accident at a French camping site. His five-year-old son, Alexander, died in the fire.
His wife, Kim, who launched the appeal in his name was told by doctors that his survival depended on finding live skin donors within 48 hours. Twelve of her husband's relatives, friends, and colleagues donated skin but after publicity more than 50 people had come forward, alerting doctors to an untapped resource. Mr Kirby's operation was a success and he was making good progress but he developed kidney failure and died.
Although some regional organisations store small quantities of skin, there is no national bank.
Donations should be sent to: The Stephen Kirby Skin Bank Fund (The Phoenix Appeal), PO Box 7, London W3 6XJ.