More organ donors should consider giving their eyes to help improve the lives of thousands of blind or partially sighted people, health officials have said.
Around one in 10 people on the NHS Organ Donor Register say they are not willing to donate their their eyes, but experts said that cornea donations are “vital” and help many patients restore their sight.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said there is a “national shortage” of corneas after the number of donated corneas fell by 2% last year – the first decrease in seven years.
“We want to highlight how important eye donation is”
Corneas can only be stored safely for a month so officials are constantly working to try to maintain a supply for patients in need.
During National Eye Week, NHSBT has called for more people to say whether or not they would be willing to donate their eyes in the event of their death.
The health body said while having a discussion about the prospect of donating eyes can be “squeamish” for some, it is important to let loved ones know of intent to donate.
Only round half of the families who consent to donating their loved one’s organs also agree to cornea donation, NHSBT said.
NHSBT said that last year, cornea transplantation in the UK helped to restore or improve the sight of more than 3,500 blind or partially sighted people.
Kyle Bennett, tissue bank manager of NHS Blood and Transplant’s Tissue Services, said: “We want to highlight how important eye donation is and that it is often possible to donate eyes even if a loved one is not able to donate their organs after their death to help others.”
Arun Brahma, an ophthalmic surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, said: “Corneal donations are vital to the work we do here at the hospital. They help to restore sight in those who have reduced visibility through cornea transplantation.
“Rarely, donations that are not suitable for corneal transplantation are still crucial, in helping us develop our research into other eye diseases and the treatment of conditions such as advanced glaucoma.
“This research ultimately shapes the treatment of these conditions in the future, which we would not be able to do without the help of donors.”