Rise in UK organ donation

ORGAN donations in the UK have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last five years according to statistics released by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

The number of deceased organ donors increased from 809 in 2007/8 to 1,212 in 2011/12 – a rise of 49.8 per cent. Total organ transplants from deceased donors increased 30.5 per cent from 2,385 in 2007/8 to 3,122 in 2011/12.

The findings mean that the target of a 50 per cent rise in organ donors set by the Department of Health’s Organ Donation Taskforce in 2008 has been met.

Fourteen recommendations were made by the task force to ensure that NHSBT achieved its target. These included employing a network of 250 specialist nurses in organ donation to support families at a difficult time to consider organ donation, as well as funding the appointment of a named clinical lead and a donation committee in each hospital or Trust across the UK to promote donation and ensure every potential donor was identified.

The task force also called for the creation of specialist organ retrieval teams to facilitate donation and promoting organ donation through public awareness campaigns.

Sally Johnson, NHSBT's Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation, commented: "Although I am delighted that we have made such big advances in the UK, we can and must do more. We need a transformation in donor and family consent to organ donation because the UK's family refusal rate remains one of the highest in Europe. Without that, there is only a limited amount more the NHS can do to offer further hope to those on the waiting list for an organ transplant."

NHSBT has consulted on a new strategy to be launched in the summer which will build on the recommendations of the original Organ Donor Taskforce and set new challenges to help the estimated three people a day still dying due to lack of suitable available organs.

In response to the announcement Dr Sue Robertson, a member of the BMA's Scottish Council and renal physician, said that even more lives could be saved if the UK adopted an opt-out system for organ donation.

Said Dr Robertson: "Last year the BMA issued a report, Building on Progress: Where next for organ donation policy in the UK? that considered other options to increase organ donation. The report concluded that the best way forward for the UK was to introduce an opt-out system with safeguards, otherwise known as a "soft opt out system". Unless an individual had registered an objection to donating their organs, or their family was aware of any objection, the default position would be to donate. Creating this kind of system would allow the wishes of the individual to be taken into account and would increase further the number of organs available for transplant.

"As long as there are patients waiting for transplants, the BMA believes that a soft opt-out system, as part of the overall package to increase donation, would save more lives. Now is the time for a serious debate about moving to opt-out."

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