Hand transplant search begins for first UK operation

David Savage
Image caption David Savage had a hand transplant in the US.

Surgeons in Leeds have begun the search for a patient to take part in the UK's first hand transplant.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has written to plastic surgeons across the country asking them to recommend patients.

The first hand transplant took place in France in 1998. Since then, 60 more operations have taken place worldwide.

Doctors believe the first UK operation will be performed at Leeds General Infirmary within a year.

Leeds already has a reputation in reattaching hands for people who have had them cut off.

Prof Simon Kay, consultant plastic surgeon, said transplanting a hand from a donor was "exactly the same" as the techniques already practised at the hospital.

He told the BBC: "Only when you speak to people who've lost a hand can you realise what a devastating thing it is, losing both hands is absolutely incapacitating.

"Now for those people there is real hope of restoration of natural appearance, natural feeling, natural function."

He is working with NHS Blood and Transplant to work out how best to identify potential donors.

Earlier in the year, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issued guidance on hand transplants. It warned of a shortage of evidence about the safety and effectiveness of the procedure.

As a result it said the operation should take place only in centres with highly experienced surgeons and that patients should be warned of the risks.

"In particular the need for and risks of long-term immunosuppression, and the fact that functioning of the transplant may be both delayed and limited," it said.

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