England to consult on organ donation opt-out system

Access to the full content of this site is available only to registered healthcare professionals. Register to read more

The government has announced plans for a public consultation on whether to automatically enter everyone on the NHS Organ Donor Register unless they opt out.

The 12-week consultation is to be launched by the end of the year, and the Department of Health will seek the public’s views on:

  • How consent issues should be managed within the NHS
  • How the government can increase organ donation rates
  • The role of technology in aiding people to discuss their wishes with family members
  • How an opt-out system could work practically, what safety measures are needed, and how to support families.

Currently, anyone wishing to donate their organs must opt in to the system via the registration and organ donor card scheme operated by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). People who are not on the Register are also eligible to donate when they die, but only if their relatives consent to it.

Since 2016 there have been more than 1,500 organ donors and more than 3,000 transplants in England. This represents the highest rate of organ donation in England to date, but there is still scope to increase these figures.

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, emphasized that waiting times for urgent transplants need immediate attention. He said: ‘All these issues will be looked at in the consultation and we welcome all those with views to come forward with their contributions.’

NHSBT has welcomed the government’s action for public consultation. Sally Johnson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHSBT, commented: ‘We hope this announcement will drive a national conversation about organ donation. Whatever legislation is in place, telling your family of your organ donation decision lets them know what you want to happen and means your family don't have to make a difficult decision when they are grieving.

‘The shortage of donors means on average three people die a day in need of a transplant so we urge everyone to have the conversation today.’