Senior cardiologists have called for a reduction in the number of hospitals performing heart transplants because they want “bigger and better resourced centres” instead.

The doctors believe the 46 per cent reduction in the rate of heart transplants over the last 10 years means it is no longer viable to run all six of the UK’s specialist centres.

British Heart Foundation medical director Professor Peter Weissberg said that a change in strategy would be better for patients.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he said: “The key thing to consider is how we ensure that everyone who needs a heart transplant has access to both a donor organ and the right expert medical resources.

“There’s work to do on both fronts. Despite an increase in organ donation overall, the number of available donor hearts has fallen.

“Encouraging more people to join the organ donor register, or even better, changing our organ donation system so people must opt out if they don’t want to donate, would help increase the number of donor hearts available.

“In terms of medical resources, it’s often the case that fewer but bigger and better resourced centres provide the best treatment and care for patients.”

The Welsh Assembly intends to introduce the opt out system, while the Department for Health is due to conduct a review of cardiothoracic transplantation in the near future.

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said: “The Department is committed to strengthening the heart transplant programme, increasing the number of organ donors and hearts donated for transplant and giving more people the opportunity to benefit from a heart transplant.

“We want to ensure this is carried out in the most effective way. That is why I have asked the National Specialised Commissioning Team to undertake a formal review into heart transplantation services in the UK.”