Talk to families about organ donation, urges NHS

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

The NHS has launched a campaign urging people to make their wishes about organ transplantation known to their families in a bid to prevent avoidable deaths.

Latest figures reveal that 457 people in the UK died waiting for an organ transplant in 2016.

Organ donation shortages are being partly attributed to the ‘opt-in’ system adopted by England and Northern Ireland, which relies on people joining the NHS Organ Donor Register. However, relatives of those on the Register are still required to consent to organ donation following the death of a loved one.

Last year, more than 450 relatives of potential organ donors did not consent to donation because they were unaware of their relatives wishes.

People who are not on the Register are also eligible to donate when they die, but only if their relatives consent to it.

Assistant Director for Organ Donation and Nursing at NHS Blood and Transplant, Anthony Clarkson, described the deaths of those waiting for a transplant as a ‘tragedy’.

‘…Hundreds of people are dying unnecessarily every year waiting for transplants. We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved,’ he said.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has previously called for England to switch to an ‘opt-out’ system, similar to that currently operated in Wales and soon to be implemented in Scotland. The scheme enrols all citizens on to the Register, with the choice to inform the NHS if they do not wish to donate.

In the first 6 months of its adoption, more than half of transplanted organs in Wales came from deemed consent.

The BMA says the ‘opt-out’ system was supported by nearly two-thirds of England’s public, and while 66% of people said they would choose to donate their organs after death, only 39% were actually on the Organ Donor Register.

Dr Clarkson added: ‘If you want to save lives, don't leave it too late to talk to your family.’

Currently, more than 6,000 people are awaiting organ transplants in the UK.