How do I go about donating a kidney?
If you are considering donating a kidney to someone you don’t know, thank you – you may be giving someone the greatest gift they could wish for. However, it’s a big decision and you need to be fully informed about the procedure and the risks of donating a kidney as a living donor before you go ahead. We suggest you take a look around this site and at other available information and links. Once you’ve done that, if you’d like to find out more, the first step to do is to contact the Living Donor Co-ordinator Nursing Team in your closest kidney transplant centre. It may seem a big step to call someone, but every kidney transplant centre in the UK has a team like this and they are there to help answer your questions and talk you through the process. Contacting them does not commit you to anything – it’s just an initial chat. They will be able to send you more information and, if you wish to, you will be able to chat with them about how you can be assessed as a donor in your local area.
You can contact any transplant centre, but it is a good idea to start with the one that is closest to where you live, as it is likely to be more convenient for you to attend appointments locally.
If you would like to discuss the possibility of donating a kidney before you contact a transplant centre (a link to a list of contact numbers is shown at the bottom of this page), you can also contact Give a Kidney – one’s enough. Click here to contact us. We can put you in touch with previous donors for a non-medical chat. They can tell you about their personal experience of donating and help to answer any initial questions you may have. They will not be able to provide any medical advice.
You may also wish to read NHS Blood and Transplant’s Information leaflet – Could I be a Living Donor?
Who can give?
In England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland any healthy adult can volunteer to give a kidney.
In Scotland only people over 16 years of age can be legally considered as living kidney donors. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, no minimum age limit is specified under the Human Tissue Act 2004, but only people over the age of 18 will be considered as non-directed (altruistic) donors. Living donation from children is only considered in exceptional circumstances, and donation from them would require court approval.
There is no upper-age limit for donating a kidney. Donors are assessed individually to ensure they are healthy enough to donate. There have been a number of living donors in their 80s!
Unlike donating blood, being a gay man does not prevent you from being assessed as a potential kidney donor.
Assessing your suitability as a donor
In order to be accepted as a donor you will need to go through a number of tests to ensure it is as safe as possible and is sensible for you to donate. The assessment procedure can take anything from three to 18 months and involved a lot of tests including blood tests, xrays, scans and physical and psychological assessments. Your Living Donor Coordinator will talk to you in more details about these tests and will be able to answer any questions you may have about them.
If the assessment process shows that you are physically and psychologically healthy, you will then see an assessor from the Human Tissue Authority. The assessor’s job is to make sure that you have fully understood all the implications of giving a kidney and that you are not being paid to donate (which is illegal) or being put under pressure to do so. They will also ask you to prove your identity.
All donors are now entered into an altruistic donor chain which enables two or three transplants to be made possible as a result of your donation – more details about this will be discussed with you during the process. The exception to this is if there is a matching high priority patient on the waiting list. You will not be able to choose whom the kidney is given to or to put any limitation on who receives the kidney.
After your operation, your kidney will be taken away immediately for transplantation at the earliest possible time. If the recipient lives at a considerable distance, the kidney is likely to be flown to its destination.
The doctors at your hospital may be able to tell you how the recipient is progressing with your kidney, but you will not be told their identity or any further information. After a while, should you wish to, you may be able to write an anonymous letter to the recipient, which would be sent anonymously via your transplant coordinator, and they may write back to let you know how they are doing. You are unlikely to ever know the identity of your recipient but you will have the knowledge that you have given someone in great need a very precious gift of a well-matched and healthy kidney.
A full list of transplant centres and contact telephone numbers is given on the NHS Blood and Transplant website here.
If you live far from your nearest transplant unit, it is sometimes possible to have most of the assessment process done at a hospital closer to where you live if that is more convenient for you.