'Cash for Organs' Practice Could Be Banned in U.K.

The British government plans to crack down on people paying for vital transplant operations after a report found too many donated organs were being given to foreign patients in exchange for cash.

An independent review has recommended stopping all private operations involving organs from dead donors.

Its author Elisabeth Buggins, former chair of the Organ Donation Taskforce, said there was confusion within the current system in terms of decision-making and accountability and recommended that changes be made.

"The ban on private practice is really to stop any perception that people are getting preferential treatment because they come with money," Buggins told BBC radio.

"We feel in a system that relies on the generosity of organ donors, financial gain from transplants just feels morally wrong — so that we want to stop that, and that should improve the confidence of donors," she said.

Last year, 3,504 organ transplants were carried out in Britain — the highest number on record — but there is still a sizeable shortage of organs and donors, the report said.

There are more than 8,000 people waiting for a transplant operation, with three people a day dying waiting for organs.

Buggins' conclusions have been broadly accepted by the Department of Health which commissioned the review in March. The practice of paying for donated organs could be banned from October 1, if health trusts agree, it said.

Her review addressed allegations made in the media during 2008 and early 2009 that organs from NHS donors were being given to foreign patients coming to Britain in exchange for cash.

Concerns were raised after it emerged the livers of 50 British donors were transplanted into foreign nationals over two years, mainly through operations carried out in London.

The patients who benefited were mainly from EU countries, principally Greece and Cyprus. While the report found no evidence of illegal activity, it said there was considerable unease about the practice.

"This report seeks to make more organs available for U.K. residents," Buggins said.

"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," she said in a statement.

Health Minister Ann Keen said the review highlighted the complexity of European law and promised to take action to reassure the transplant community and the public.

"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," she said.