NHS Blood and Transplant has announced that more than 1,000 people in the UK have now donated a kidney anonymously to a stranger on the transplant waiting list as a living donor since the law was changed to allow this in 2006. This is known as non-directed altruistic living kidney donation.
Worldwide, kidney disease is the tenth most common cause of death. The number of people developing kidney disease in the UK is growing significantly, driven by risk factors such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, alongside health and economic inequalities. Despite ongoing work to encourage kidney donation from both living and deceased donors, around six people die each week in the UK waiting for a transplant.
There are many people whose life could be transformed by living donation.
The 1,000th non-directed living kidney donor was Neil Cheetham (59) from Devon. His donation took place in 2023 at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.
Neil said: “I had a close friend who needed a kidney transplant. Ultimately, sadly, he was unable to receive a kidney, but it made me realise that there are many people whose life could be transformed by living donation. I met a local man who had already donated a kidney to a stranger many years ago and he helped to guide me to through the process. I have no regrets at all. I’m as healthy as ever, regularly cycling, walking and climbing. Just six months after the donation I visited Norway to climb there. It feels good to have been able to help someone in need.”
Bob Wiggins, Chair of charity Give a Kidney which raises awareness of non-directed kidney donation, said:
“There are currently most than 5,500 people in the UK in need of a kidney so we’re encouraging everyone to consider if you could be a living donor. Many people still don’t know that any healthy adult can volunteer as a living donor. Thanks to these 1,000 donors countless lives have been changed for the better. Not only that, but together this group has already saved the NHS millions of pounds over the cost of keeping the recipients on dialysis treatment.”
Lisa Burnapp, Associate Medical Director for Living Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said:
“Living donation is highly successful, and more than 1,000 people have had their lives saved and transformed thanks to the generosity of these donors. Through donor chains, up to three people can benefit from a single donation because it can trigger a chain of transplants. The more people who are willing to consider donating in this way, the more kidneys there are available to help everyone waiting for a transplant.”
About living kidney donation
Any healthy adult can volunteer to be assessed as a living donor and a kidney from a living donor is the very best treatment option for most patients with kidney disease. The volunteer donor goes through a thorough assessment over several months to ensure they are fit and healthy and that the risk to them is as low as possible. If approved, they are matched with a suitable recipient from the transplant waiting list, or they can also enter into a sharing scheme which enables one non-directed donor to potentially ‘trigger’ up to three transplants.
Living kidney donation has been taking place in the UK since the 1960s. It is a highly successful form of transplantation carried out at NHS hospitals and regulated by the Human Tissue Authority.
Latest figures from NHS Blood and Transplant (March 2023) highlight that in the year 2022, a remarkable 83 non-directed altruistic donors generously donated a kidney to a recipient. Among these 83 donors, 49 contributed to an altruistic donor chain, and 21 participated in long chains, through the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme, ultimately benefiting 69 adults’ patients in the scheme. These 83 non-directed altruistic donors created chains benefiting 119 patients in total (114 adult and 5 paediatric patients).
Last week also saw the launch of a new campaign, Make Your Mark, as part of the Robert Dangoor Living Kidney Donor Programme. Kidney Research UK has joined forces with Give a Kidney, a charity devoted to living kidney donation, to deliver this programme, made possible by businessman and philanthropist David Dangoor CBE. David is particularly invested in raising awareness of living kidney donation having previously donated a kidney to his brother Robert.
The programme has been created to raise awareness and encourage more people to consider donating a kidney during their lifetime. The programme will be working closely with support from NHS Blood and Transplant.
Together, the two charities will endeavour to help more people understand what it means to be a living donor, as well as supporting and guiding them throughout their donation journey.
Find out more about becoming a living organ donor or register your wish to donate your organs after your death on the NHS Organ Donor Register.