Tissue Services and Tissue Donation

Tissue donation is the gift of tissue such as corneas (and other eye tissue), skin, bone, tendons, cartilage and heart valves for grafting and transplantation.

Each year thousands of people with a severe eye disease or injury have their sight restored through eye donation.

Bone, tendons and cartilage are used for reconstruction after an injury or during joint replacement surgery. A bone transplant can prevent limb amputation in patients suffering from bone cancer.

Heart valves are used to help children born with heart defects and adults with diseased or damaged valves and skin grafts are used to treat people with severe burns.

Most people are able to donate tissue following their death. Unlike organs, it may be possible to donate tissue up to 48 hours after a person has died. Tissue donation has grown since the early 90s, utilising the donor selection, donation testing and quality system expertise that was already established for blood transfusion. This growth resulted from the development of tissue banking services by individual blood centres in response to local and regional clinical demand.

NHSBT Tissue Services is the UKs major provider of human tissue for transplant. Their role is to coordinate, facilitate donation, process, bank and supply human tissue grafts for use in surgery within the NHS and the independent healthcare sector. As part of the NHS they operate as a not-for-profit organisation and supply tissue grafts from around 500 donors per year. Their key objective is to provide high quality, cost-effective tissue grafts for the benefit of patients, and every effort is made to ensure the safety and efficacy of the products they supply.

NHSBT Tissue Services work in collaboration with Coroners, pathologists and NHS partners to provide donor families with access to a team of specially trained nurses. Their role is to discuss the donation options and help facilitate the donation process. Currently they receive approximately 6,000 deceased donor referrals per year and are working with most hospital trusts.

In Scotland the SN-ODs refer all tissue to the Tissue and Cells Directorate of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS).

In addition to NHSBT and SNBTS there are a number of independent tissue banks around the UK.

The Human Tissue Act 2004 and associated Codes of Practice along with the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 and associated explanatory notes have been transposed into UK law: all tissue banks hold licenses from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). A major feature of the Human Tissue Act is that it ensures that consent/authorisation is the fundamental principle for the lawful removal, storage and use of human tissue, and the HTA have issued Codes of Practice for England and Wales which detail recommendations in these areas. In Scotland the Scottish Government Explanatory Notes provide similar guidance.

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