Video exclusive: NHS to fund hand transplants after pioneering Leeds operation

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MORE patients are set to undergo hand transplants in Leeds after the city was chosen as the national specialist centre for the life-changing surgery.

Two procedures could take place as soon as donors become available after NHS bosses agreed that Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust should lead the way.

Hand transplant patient Mark Cahill at his home at Greetland, Halifax, in December 2013. Picture By Simon Hulme

Hand transplant patient Mark Cahill at his home at Greetland, Halifax, in December 2013. Picture By Simon Hulme

The UK’s first hand transplant operation was carried out at Leeds General Infirmary in 2012 by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay.

Now he and his team have been chosen by NHS England to carry out the highly-complex surgery for patients across the country, which will be funded by the NHS.

Prof Kay told The Yorkshire Post: “I see it as a very strong endorsement of hand transplantation.

“They have recognised it’s going to be a visionary technology for the future, not just in hands but other types of transplantation.”

Professor Simon Kay who operated on Mark Cahill when he became the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant

Professor Simon Kay who operated on Mark Cahill when he became the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant

It is expected that between two and four operations a year will be carried out.

Prof Kay said: “We have one lady and one man waiting and we are on the lookout for a donor all the time.”

A further two people are being prepared and are likely to be ready within the next six months, with a fifth patient also identified.

He said a recipient could expect virtually normal function in the transplanted hand, with the pioneering surgery having “completely transformed” the life of Mark Cahill, who had the operation in 2012.

Mr Cahill, from Halifax, now has almost full use of the transplanted hand so he is able to drive and lift up his grandchildren.

He said: “My experience as a patient and my quality of life since the hand transplant has been fantastic.

“I would like to thank once again the family of the donor who gave their permission for me to have the hand of their relative at such a difficult time for them.”

Prof Kay added: “It’s completely life-changing. If you’ve lost one hand, it is bad, if you have lost both, life in the modern era is very difficult.”

Dr Jonathan Fielden, NHS England’s director of specialised commissioning, said: “The NHS is leading the world in offering this cutting edge procedure, which has been shown to significantly improve the quality of life for patients who meet the strict criteria.

“We will be working closely with Professor Kay and his colleagues at Leeds, as well as NHS Blood and Transplant, to ensure that this highly innovative service for the NHS can get up and running as soon as possible.”

Scottish woman Corinne Hutton is also on the waiting list for the surgery as the 45-year-old had both hands and lower legs amputated in 2013 after contracting septicaemia.

The charity worker, from Renfrewshire near Glasgow, is the only person waiting for a double hand transplant.

Her operation, which will take place once a suitable donor is found, is being funded by the health service in Scotland rather than NHS England.

HOW SURGERY IS PERFORMED

HAND TRANSPLANTS can be so successful that recipients can end up with a hand which moves with dexterity, feels warm to the touch and even heals itself from injury.

NHS Blood and Transplant will work with the Leeds team to find possible donors, looking to match blood group, skin tone and hand size.

During the procedure, surgeons work to remove the donor hand while separate teams work on the recipient. To attach the hand, the two bones in the upper arm are put in place with titanium plates and screws then tendons, muscles and blood vessels are connected.

More information for potential patients is available at www.handtransplantuk.com.

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