Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the NHSBT kept organ donation and transplants going.
Last year, 3,391 people received a life-saving transplant – around 20 percent down on normal levels.
Donations from the deceased fell 25 percent, according to NHS Blood and Transplant’s annual report.
It is estimated that around 7,000 people in the UK are still waiting for a transplant – the highest since 2012/13.
But Professor John Forsythe, medical director of organ and tissue donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), said: “This past year has been completely unprecedented in the history of the NHS.
“So the fact we managed to maintain three-quarters of our normal donation and transplantation activity is phenomenal.”
At the peak of the pandemic, many patients had to be taken off the waiting list for transplants.
In 2020/21, 1,180 people donated organs after their death. This compares with 1,580 deceased donors and 4,761 people who received a transplant in 2019/20.
One donor can provide organs for several recipients.
The number of patients on the waiting list actually fell to 4,256 at the end of March 2021.
However, NHSBT said this was not accurate as many patients were taken off the list when some transplant programmes closed at the peak of the pandemic.
Centres are still working to clear the backlog of new referrals and temporary suspensions.
Covid “has been a very worrying time for patients who are waiting for a transplant.”
Last year, 487 patients died waiting for an operation, compared with 372 the previous year.
Prof Forsythe said there was no escaping the fact that donations and transplants would take some time to recover. But he added: “With a great team effort, deceased organ donation and transplant activity continued for the most urgent patients during the first wave of Covid-19 and returned to pre-Covid levels quite rapidly, with July and August last year being record summer months for donation and transplantation.
“In later surges, the teams managed to keep the majority of these vital procedures going.”
A change in organ donation law in May 2020 in England, and March 2021 in Scotland, means it is now assumed that people want to donate their organs after death unless they opt out or are in an excluded group.
The report showed the number of people joining the Organ Donation Register rose in 2020/21 to 26.7 million. Just two million opted out.
Prof Forsythe said: “Each one of us in the wider clinical team of donation and transplant are immensely proud of the work to keep organ donation and transplants happening in the most challenging circumstances.
“But our commitment is nothing compared with donors and their families. The gift of life has been donated in the midst of a tragedy made even more difficult by Covid restrictions.”
He added: “We realise this has been a very worrying time for patients who are waiting for a transplant and their families.
“We would like to reassure them that the recovery of organ donation and transplantation, both living and deceased, is well under way, and deceased donation rates are back to pre-Covid levels thanks to the huge support of families who agree to donation, and the clinical teams.”
‘WE’RE SO PROUD OF OUR DAUGHTER’S LEGACY’
A family who respected their daughter’s wish to have her organs donated say she saved the lives of three others.
Claudia-Rose Moor, 23, was injured in a car accident in April last year – at the height of the pandemic. Doctors at the Royal Sussex County Hospital tried in vain for four days to save her.
Claudia-Rose’s mother knew her daughter wanted her organs to be donated.
Her mum Nichola said she then remembered a conversation they had as a family just a year before, when her daughter insisted she wanted to be an organ donor.
Nichola said: “I just knew I had to make it happen. But we knew there could be a possibility it might not be able to go ahead as we were in the height of a pandemic and we had to make sure the organs could be transplanted. Luckily, she was able to donate three organs, which is amazing.”
She added that Claudia-Rose, who lived in St Leonards, East Sussex, “treated strangers as friends and that’s what’s so poignant about her being a donor.
“She’d give anyone anything, she was so generous, and we are so proud that her legacy is giving life to three other people.”