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Leeds Teaching Hospital to perform first NHS hand transplants

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29 Jan 2016

NHS England has given the go-ahead for a leading centre at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to begin assessing suitable adult candidates and performing the highly-complex procedure from April.

Hand and upper limb transplant offers patients the only method of reconstruction that looks and functions like a normal hand. Transplanted successfully, the hand will, in time and with expert aftercare, move with strength and dexterity, sense its surroundings, feel warm to the touch and heal itself when injured.

People who have had a hand transplant also report a better quality of life and wellbeing, and the majority are eventually – after extensive physiotherapy – able to undertake daily living activities.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, NHS England’s Director of Specialised Commissioning, said: “The NHS is leading the world in offering this cutting edge procedure, which has been shown to significantly improve the quality of life for patients who meet the strict criteria.

“We will be working closely with Professor Kay and his colleagues at Leeds, as well as NHS Blood and Transplant, to ensure that this highly innovative service for the NHS can get up and running as soon as possible.”

The centre in Leeds is headed up by leading consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay, who successfully performed the UK’s first hand transplant in 2012 and will accept suitable patients from around the country.

The beneficiary of that transplant, Mark Cahill from West Yorkshire, has reported regaining almost complete use of his transplanted hand, allowing him to, for example, tie his shoelaces, carry his granddaughter and drive a car.

Over the next 5 years Professor Kay and his team at Leeds will work in partnership with hand and wrist consultant Mr Henk Giele and a team of experts at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The service in Oxford will undertake assessments and non-surgical elements of follow-up care.

Prof Simon Kay said: “We are delighted to be confirmed as the provider of this new service. The extensive multi-professional expert team here at Leeds is keen to now assess new patient referrals and benefit patients and their families in a way they may never have thought possible before.

“The Leeds unit has an existing surgical service which can now continue with NHS England support. Oxford has an existing organ transplantation service and strong track record in research in this area.”

Mark Cahill said: “My experience as a patient and my quality of life since the hand transplant has been fantastic. I would like to thank once again the family of the donor who gave their permission for me to have the hand of their relative at such a difficult time for them. It really has transformed my life”.

Approximately 80 hand transplants have been performed worldwide. Success rates are high provided patients are selected carefully and fully-prepared psychologically. After the operation, patients need to take life-long medication to stop limbs being rejected, and follow daily physiotherapy routines.