NUH takes over cadaveric kidney transplant cases after suspension at SGH following hep C outbreak

NUH takes over cadaveric kidney transplant cases after suspension at SGH following hep C outbreak
PHOTO: The Straits Times

All cadaveric kidney transplants in the country are now being done at the National University Hospital (NUH), following the suspension of such transplants at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The Ministry of Health stopped kidney transplants at SGH on Sept 17 after its director of medical services, Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, realised the extent of a hepatitis C outbreak there.

NUH has since taken over four patients from SGH and the first transplant was done in October.

Professor A. Vathsala, co-director of the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation, said: "We worked very closely with the SGH team, which has been very helpful in preparing the patients and providing us with comprehensive information about their medical histories.

"The patients understood the need for the transfer of their care and have been cooperative."

She said that NUH arranged for extra operating theatre space and manpower to accommodate the additional patients.

The outbreak at SGH, which was discovered in mid-May, affected 25 renal patients. It is now known that hepatitis C either directly caused, or contributed to, the deaths of seven patients, all of whom had transplanted kidneys.

The National Organ Transplant Unit noticed the spike in hepatitis C cases among transplant recipients and suggested on June 11 that SGH suspend transplants. SGH did not do so. At the time, seven of its patients were known to have hepatitis C.

By the end of June, nine more patients had tested positive for the virus. One more was infected in July.

SGH briefed Prof Ong about the outbreak on Sept 3, but was unable to answer as to the extent of it.

Following more investigations, the ministry stopped the hospital's transplant programme on Sept 17.

As the biggest kidney transplant hospital, SGH has done hundreds of transplants over the years.

As at the end of 2013, there were 677 people alive who had had their transplants done at SGH, compared with 265 for NUH and 62 for Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Private hospitals are allowed to carry out living donor organ transplants. But cadaveric transplants are done only at public hospitals. For the moment, this means just NUH, as the other public hospitals do not carry out transplants.

There were 367 people waiting for a kidney at the end of June this year. In the first half of the year, there were 12 transplants with kidneys from dead donors, and 22 living donor transplants.

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This article was first published on Dec 11, 2015.
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