The 1,000th transplant involving living kidney swap donors will take place this week.
The NHS runs a sharing scheme where people can donate a kidney in return for one for their friend or family member in need.
The scheme was set up in 2007 because people on the kidney transplant list had friends and family who wanted to donate their organ but were not a good match by blood group or tissue.
Now, if a patient enters the sharing scheme with their friend or family member, the pair could be matched with another couple in the scheme so that each recipient receives a kidney from the other’s friend or family member.
NHS Blood and Transplant said the scheme had given a huge boost to the number of kidneys available for donation.
The UK’s kidney transplant waiting list has fallen from 6,480 when the scheme was set up, to 4,800 people.
All donors and recipients in the scheme are anonymous and about 300 recipients are registered at any one time.
Pairs can be matched in either two or three-way swaps or in chains of up to three transplants.
For these chains, a volunteer known as a non-directed altruistic donor kicks off the process by donating their kidney to somebody they do not know.
The recipient then has a friend or family member who donates to another person in need, whose friend or family member also donates.
Lisa Burnapp, NHS Blood and Transplant lead nurse for kidney donation, said: “Living donation has been a major success story for the UK, with one in three patients receiving a kidney transplant from a living donor.
“The more non-directed altruistic donors we have starting a chain means up to three times as many patients could be offered the opportunity of a successful transplant.
“The 1,000th transplant through the kidney-sharing scheme is a major milestone which is testament to the commitment of everyone involved in making the scheme work.”
David Meekin, a 49-year-old engineer from Scunthorpe, donated his kidney altruistically last year to kick off a chain of three transplants.
He said: “I found out about living donation while I was giving blood, which I have done for almost 20 years after my sister had cancer and needed transfusions.
“When it came to the date of my operation I was not nervous or worried, I was relaxed.
“I knew exactly what was going on and I was home the day after my surgery. I took things easy for a couple of weeks but was back at work eight weeks later.”
David does not know who received his kidney, but he is glad he was able to change their life.
“It cost me nothing but a little discomfort, but it allowed someone else to carry on living.
“Living donation for me was a no-brainer – someone out there needed something I had and didn’t need.”