A&E departments could help resolve the national shortage of corneal donors

November 16, 2000

Corneal donation in the accident and emergency department: observational study

Patients pronounced dead in accident and emergency departments are potential donors of corneas (transparent tissue which protects the eyeball), but this resource is underused. A study in this week's BMJ shows how an active policy for corneal donation can have a dramatic effect on the number of corneas donated, helping to resolve the national shortage of donor corneal tissue.

Consent for corneal donation was requested from the relatives of all patients pronounced dead in one accident and emergency department in Scotland from April to July 1999. In addition, a simple questionnaire assessed relatives' attitudes towards corneal donation. Of 25 patients, consent was given for nine pairs of corneas to be donated - a retrieval rate of 36% compared to 1% in the previous year. Of these nine donors, three carried a donor card. Of 24 questionnaires completed, 21 relatives thought it was appropriate to be approached about corneal donation and 23 were not distressed by the request.

Projecting these results for one year, the authors would expect to double the number of corneas donated in the west of Scotland simply by implementing this policy in one accident and emergency department. These findings may also add to the political debate surrounding the validity of donor cards and the need for an opt out policy, say the authors.

Jason Long, Specialist Registrar in Accident and Emergency, Monklands Hospital, Airdrie, Scotland, UK Email: jason.long@ntlworld.com


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