Surgeons are to be flown in from Scotland to help restart the national pancreas transplantation programme after a nine-month gap.
Patients on the waiting list for a pancreas transplant have been told specialists from Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary Hospital will transplant any organs that become available for suitable recipients between now and January.
No pancreas transplants have been carried out this year, since the retirement of the surgeon who founded the programme, Dr David Hickey, from Beaumont Hospital at the end of 2014. The waiting list for transplants was suspended and people with transplants were told to go to an emergency department when they required urgent care, despite the risk of infection this involved.
Beaumont’s failure to continue the programme was heavily criticised by Dr Hickey and patients on the waiting list, who expressed a fear they might die before the programme was restarted.
It was subsequently agreed to transfer the programme to St Vincent's, which has expertise in pancreatic cancer, but it remained unclear when qualified staff would be in place to carry out pancreas transplants. Dr Hickey is the only surgeon who has performed the operation in Ireland.
St Vincent’s now says it has appointed a temporary consultant with expertise in pancreas transplantation. The recruitment of a permanent surgeon is underway and a number of people have applied for the post.
A spokesman confirmed St Vincent’s has established a link with the pancreas transplant programme in Edinburgh, which will provide “oversight” for the transfer of the Irish program from Beaumont to St Vincent’s. “This oversight will include the provision of on-site surgical expertise for the initial cases that will be performed at St Vincent’s.”
The hospital continues to work with Beaumont on the transition and joint assessment clinics were started in late July, he added.
Six patients are currently waiting for simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplants and a further three patients are waiting for pancreas only transplants, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar told Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin in the Dáil this week.