Retrieval process

The National Organ Retrieval Services (NORS) teams deliver a high-quality service performing a procedure that is highly challenging, both technically and emotionally. The Organ Retrieval Service is underpinned by robust quality and clinical governance support systems. From start to finish the procedure is carried out with the utmost respect for the donor and in accordance with the family’s wishes.

The NORS teams work relentlessly, and with the highest dedication, to offer the best quality organs for all patients awaiting an organ transplant in the UK. The opportunities to improve and respond to the challenges posed by this practice are regularly reviewed by National Regulatory and Advisory bodies integrated in the national legal and ethical framework.

The organ retrieval operation can take place only after consent authorisation has been obtained.

The different types of organ donors, Donors after Brainstem Death (DBD) or Donors after Circulatory Death (DCD), pose unique challenges to surgeons and to all members of the NORS teams. Nevertheless, the core principles of the operation apply to both categories of donors.

The procedure consists firstly in assessing the suitability of the organs and excluding the presence of major contraindications to donation that could pose a risk to the potential recipients.

The retrieval operation is very challenging because of the physiological anatomical variations and/or pre-existing conditions of the donor. Both the cardiothoracic and abdominal NORS teams cooperate, alternate or work simultaneously at the operating table. The cardiothoracic organs may not always be suitable for transplantation so the majority of organ retrievals are performed by abdominal teams only.

Retrieving the organs requires a highly skilled lead surgeon who is competent, accredited and capable of identifying and respecting the complexity of the donor’s anatomy. All lead surgeons are competent in dissecting the most delicate structures of the human body, preserving the relevant anatomy and ensuring a safe and successful transplantation.

Once removed, the organs are again assessed individually and the quality of the organ is relayed to the transplanting team. Organs that are not intended to be transplanted are NOT retrieved unless specified and agreed at time of consent authorisation.

Organs are then safely packed into boxes that keep them cool while in transit to the transplant centre.  On arrival, the transplant surgeon will again check the quality of the organs before proceeding to the transplant operation. The retrieval operation is concluded with the team de-briefing.