Algorithm delays young peoples' liver transplants 

Occurred: August 2023

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Young people are being forced to wait four times longer than they used to for liver transplants by an UK National Health Service (NHS) algorithm supposed to provide a 'more objective way of matching organs to patients'. 

The Transplant Benefit Score (TBS) algorithm, which prioritises patients most likely to die soon by looking at 21 recipient parameters, such as age, disease type and severity, and seven donor ones, was introduced in 2018 with the aim of cutting waiting list deaths on the waiting. 

Those most likely to die soon tend to be older people, yet NHS figures (pdf) show younger people must wait 156 days longer on average for a transplant than patients over 60.

The findings prompted concerns that the system may be unfair, with liver transplant surgeon Professor Nigel Heaton telling the BBC that his younger patients tend to be born with liver disease or to have developed it early in life through no fault of their own.

It is also seen to highlight the complexities of designing a system that is viewed as fair for everyone.

Operator: NHS Blood and Transplant

Country: UK

Sector: Health

Purpose: Allocate liver transplants

Issue: Fairness; Safety