We use cookies to help us improve the website and your experience using it. You may delete and block all cookies from this site at any time. However, please note this may result in parts of the site no longer working correctly. If you continue without changing your settings we will assume you are happy to receive all cookies on this site.


More eye donors needed to help restore sight to patients

During National Eye Week (22-28 September) NHS Blood and Transplant is calling for more eye donors as it reveals that only about 5 out of 10 of the families who consent to donating their loved one's organs also agree to cornea donation. What's more, the overall number of eye donations across the UK from organ donors and tissue only donors fell in the last financial year (2013/14) by 2 per cent, the first decrease in 7 years.

The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye and is carefully obtained from the eyes of deceased donors. Cornea transplants are needed to restore the sight of people affected by disease or injury, which can eventually lead to blindness. Last year in the UK cornea transplantation helped to restore or improve the sight of more than 3,500 blind and partially sighted people.

The hospital and patient demand for corneas fluctuates and so NHS Blood and Transplant works hard to increase eye donation rates and ensure that there are always high quality corneas available for transplant. Corneas can only be stored for 28 days and so there is a constant need for people to donate.

NHS Blood and Transplant is calling on people to commit to donating their corneas, as well as other tissues and organs, by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register.  It is also asking those already on the Organ Donor Register who have stated that they don't want to donate their corneas, to change their mind and to update what they are willing to donate at www.organdonation.nhs.uk

Despite there being a national shortage of corneas, 88% of people who restrict which organs and tissues they want to donate state they are not prepared to donate their eyes. This equates to 1 in 10 people on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Mr Arun Brahma, Ophthalmic Surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital said:

"Corneal donations are vital to the work we do here at the hospital. They help to restore sight in those who have reduced visibility through cornea transplantation. Rarely, donations that are not suitable for corneal transplantation are still crucial, in helping us develop our research into other eye diseases and the treatment of conditions such as advanced glaucoma. This research ultimately shapes the treatment of these conditions in the future, which we would not be able to do without the help of donors."

Kyle Bennett, Tissue Bank Manager of NHS Blood and Transplant's Tissue Services said:

"Patients across the NHS are in need of corneal transplants to restore their sight. Each donor can potentially improve and enhance the lives of two people by giving them the gift of sight.

"We always need more families to say yes to donating their loved one's eyes, as corneas can only be used for transplant for a month after donation.  We want to highlight how important eye donation is and that it is often possible to donate eyes even if a loved one is not able to donate their organs after their death to help others.

"We often hear people say they're squeamish at the thought of donating their eyes after their death. But we can reassure you that it is amazing thing to do and can really transform lives.  We also appreciate that people often don't want to contemplate death. But as we need corneas from people of all ages to provide the best matches for transplant, please take the time now to make a decision about donation and tell those closest to you what you want to happen. If you're finding it hard to decision, perhaps think about whether you would want someone to donate their eyes if someone close to you needed a cornea transplant.

"We are hugely grateful to every family who has ever made the decision to donate organs or tissues as they have helped save and improve the lives of others."

It is easier to donate tissue, such as eyes, than it is to donate organs when you die. There is a longer window during which you can donate tissue and you don't have to die in hospital to become a tissue donor. This means that most people could potentially donate some tissue when they die to help others.

In comparison, only around 5,000 of the half a million people who die across the UK each year die in circumstances where they could donate their organs.  This means every potential organ donor is precious.

The age of eye donors is important as the eye banks match recipients with corneas from similarly-aged donors.

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

To find out more about tissue donation visit: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/tissuedonation