Review report makes recommendations to future proof the National Organ Retrieval Service

28 May 2015

The review of the National Organ Retrieval Service, commissioned by NHS Blood and Transplant on behalf of all four UK countries, has published its report and recommendations.


The National Organ Retrieval Service is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week organ retrieval service, provided by teams from the transplanting centres in the UK. The teams travel to donation hospitals to retrieve organs from deceased organ donors.

Donation is unpredictable, so flexibility is essential, as the teams often have to travel considerable distances, usually at night and often at relatively short notice. It is a vital service underpinning organ donation and transplantation yet most people in the UK are totally unaware it exists.

The review was carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of the current service and to make recommendations to ensure the future provision of a high quality organ retrieval service across the UK. The report focuses on three main themes:

  • realignment of capacity
  • commissioning for quality
  • identifying the future service requirements

The review found that significant improvements could be achieved and has made recommendations for improving service quality, responsiveness and cost-effectiveness.

Maintaining an effective and efficient service is required to ensure donations take place and patients get the transplants they need. It also needs to be able to support the increase in donations and transplants we are aiming to achieve through delivering the UK strategy Taking Organ Transplantation to 2020.

Kathleen Preston, chair of the Review Board, in her forward to the report states:

"The aim of the recommendations made in this Report is to ensure that there is a high quality, effective service in the UK for retrieving organs from donors, capable of adapting to the demands and challenges which undoubtedly lie ahead, and ensuring that more successful organ transplants take place."

John Pattullo, Chairman NHS Blood and Transplant, said:

"The Board of NHS Blood and Transplant supports the recommendations of the Review. The National Organ Retrieval Service is crucial to ensuring that organ donors have their wishes honoured and as many people as possible receive a life saving transplant. We need to be reassured that there is a safe, sustainable and high quality retrieval service underpinning this service across the UK."

NHS Blood and Transplant, UK Health Departments and a wide range of stakeholders, including commissioners and service providers, will now work together to implement the recommendations. Working groups will be set up to help make the changes, which are expected to be in place by April 2016.


  • For additional information please contact the NHSBT Press Office on 01923 367600. 

Notes to editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the UK and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.
  • The aim of the review was to benchmark the current NORS provision, identify any gaps or shortfalls and make recommendations in line with certain principles.
  • The review board was chaired by Kathleen Preston and membership comprised senior representatives from the professionals involved in organ retrieval and transplantation, the donation community, commissioning and policy representatives from all four UK countries and NHSBT.
  • Kathleen Preston, the Chair of the Review into the National Organ Retrieval Service, is a Lay Member of the NHSBT Liver Advisory Group. She is a Scottish solicitor who has extensive experience in both private practice and public service. For several years she was the main legal adviser to the Scottish government on NHS services, the governance of the NHS in Scotland, the regulation of the health professions, and patient rights, being the lead solicitor for the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011. Kathleen is also a non-executive Board member of Healthcare Improvement Scotland which plays a vital role in the improvement, quality assurance and scrutiny of NHS services in Scotland and regulates independent health services there.
  • The membership of the Review Board comprised senior representatives from the professionals involved in organ retrieval and transplantation, the donation community, commissioning and policy representatives from all four UK countries and NHSBT.
  • A wide range of stakeholders took part in formal consultation events. They were also invited to make written submissions to the review board, and to complete an anonymous survey.
  • The National Organ Retrieval Service (NORS) has played a vital role in contributing to the increase in deceased donors and organ transplants carried out. The service was established by NHSBT in April 2010 following a specific recommendation from the Organ Donation Taskforce.
  • NHSBT uniquely commissions the service on behalf of the four UK Health Departments, who contribute funding for the provision of an integrated UK wide retrieval service.
  • Establishment of the National Organ Retrieval Service moved organ retrieval away from the previous arrangements, where multiple teams might attend a single donor. Currently there are five stand-alone cardiothoracic teams, seven stand-alone abdominal teams, some working on a shared rota, one joint team and one multi-organ team (combined abdominal and cardiothoracic expertise). This allows for retrieval for six cardiothoracic and seven abdominal donors at any time.
  • The service has been very successful and has played a vital role in contributing to the increase in deceased donors and organ transplants carried out since it was established.
  • The combined efforts of the four UK Health Departments, NHSBT and the service providers in establishing and maintaining a reliable and responsive national retrieval service should be commended. The commitment and dedication of the healthcare professionals involved, in what is often a service delivered in challenging circumstances, across the UK, during antisocial hours, should also be acknowledged, and appreciated.
  • The net result is that donor hospitals and the wider transplant community have confidence that they are supported by a professional, skilled service, whose availability, at any given time, can be relied upon.
  • The service and is well regarded internationally. Organ procurement organisations from other countries have expressed an interest in learning from the NORS experience.
  • The NHS Organ Donor Register records the details of people who have registered their wishes to donate organs and/or tissue after their death for transplantation. This information is used by authorised medical staff to establish whether a person wanted to donate.
  • It's simple to join the ODR by:
  • Anyone can register on the ODR. Age isn't a barrier to being an organ or tissue donor and neither are most medical conditions. People in their 70's and 80's have become donors and saved many lives.
  • One donor can save or transform up to nine lives and many more can be helped through the donation of tissues.
  • There are currently around 10,000 people in the UK in need of an organ transplant. This figure changes constantly though as people join and leave the transplant list.