Reflections of a Specialist Organ Donation Nurse During Covid-19

10th September 2020

As a Specialist Nurse for Organ Donation (SNOD), working for NHS Blood and Transplant and based in the ICU at the Ulster Hospital, I work closely with all of the very dedicated ICU Team. When COVID-19 admissions began to increase, the expectation was that Organ Donation would not be possible or that it would be at a much reduced rate. Thankfully this forecast was wrong for Northern Ireland and from March to the end of July 2020 the Northern Ireland Organ Donation Team facilitated 23 organ donors. 23 families gave the greatest gift there is, the gift of life and in very difficult circumstances. These gifts can never be underestimated and the transplant patients and their families will be forever grateful for their generosity. The donors and their families donated 70 organs for transplant. Some of the national transplant centres were closed due to COVID-19 but Belfast was open, transplanting a total of 104 kidneys within the period of March to July 2020.

During COVID-19 the NI SNOD Team were redeployed for some of their working day, to their local ICU, bereavement groups and also some national bereavement help lines. I joined the South Eastern HSC Trust Family Support Group, providing calls to families with loved ones in ICU, who they couldn’t visit.  I also provided bereavement t calls to families whose loved ones died, to offer condolences and support.  Within ICU we set up a virtual visiting facility, where family could visit their relative via a screen. I don’t believe any one in ICU thought that we would be talking to relatives remotely and allowing them to see their family member unconscious and unable to respond. All of the ICU staff embraced virtual visiting and families got a lot of comfort, reassurance and support from this. The ICU staff also facilitated End of Life visiting, where and when that was possible. I look upon my ICU and SNOD colleagues with admiration and respect, in how they dealt with the difficult tasks during a prolonged period of time, which is still ongoing as we continue to deal with COVID-19. My SNOD colleagues carried on with organ donation under extreme challenges, with very positive outcomes.

It is encouraging that 55% of residents in the North Down and Ards area are currently signed up to the Organ Donation Register, but with this being Organ Donation week, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people who are not registered to sign up and to share their organ donation wishes with their family, so they can support and honour their decision. It only takes a few minutes to sign up on the Organ Donation Website:

  • Heather Savage, SNOD