Eye bank levels fall below level needed

Female scientist in the lab

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has revealed that its eye banks are 21% below the level needed to supply hospitals, leading to delays in cornea transplant operations.

At the end of September, there were 278 corneas in the service’s Manchester and Bristol eye banks. The target level is 350.

NHSBT need around 70 donations a week to meet the demand for corneal transplants, but there are regular shortfalls.

According to an NHSBT spokesperson, the eyes are the part of the body that people are most likely to avoid donating in their preferences on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Around 3,000 families agree to donate their relative’s eyes each year.

Most people who donate their corneas after their death also give permission for the rest of their eye tissue (including the macula) to be used for research. But until very recently, there was no systematic collection or storage of this tissue, so much of it was wasted.

In our winter edition of Sideview, Professor Paul Bishop gives an insight into the work ongoing at Manchester eye bank to make the best use of this remaining eye tissue.  He highlights the importance of donating your eyes.

He says: “Human tissue is so important because there is no good animal model: only primates have a macula and only humans get macular disease.”

Keep a look out for our winter edition of Sideview at the end of November.

In the meantime you can register as an organ and tissue donor at www.organdonation.nhs.uk, or call NHS Blood and Transplant on 0300 123 23 23. If you live in Wales, the “opt-out” system assumes that you have consented unless you explicitly say that you don’t want to be a donor.

People aged up to 90 can donate their corneas and macular conditions are no barrier. If you want your eyes to be used for research, it is important to tell your family your wishes.