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Health Secretary calls for public to put aside the taboo of organ donation to save thousands of lives

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on people to overcome a “fatal reluctance” to talk about organ donation with relatives, as he launches a major public consultation on plans to introduce a new opt-out system.

Figures from NHS Blood and Transplant show that in the past year around 1,100 families in the UK decided not to allow organ donation because they were unsure, or did not know whether their relatives would have wanted to donate an organ or not.

Every day three patients die needing a new organ.

In October, the Prime Minister announced that the Government will change to an ‘opt-out’ system, shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation, in a bid to save the lives of the 6,500 people currently waiting for a transplant.

Currently, 80 percent of people say they would be willing to donate their organs but only 36 percent register to become an organ donor. It is hoped that changing the system to an opt-out model of consent will mean more viable organs become available for use on the NHS, potentially saving thousands of lives.

With the launch of the consultation today, Mr Hunt is starting an open conversation about opt-out organ donation.

Over the next three months, the Government is asking for comments on the defining issues of the new system:

  • How much say should families have in their deceased relative’s decision to donate their organs?
  • When would exemptions to ‘opt-out’ be needed, and what safeguards will be necessary?
  • How might a new system affect certain groups depending on age, disability, race or faith?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

Every day, three people die for want of a transplant, which is why our historic plans to transform the way organ donation works are so important. We want as many people as possible to have their say as we shape the new opt-out process.

“But as well as changing the law, we also need to change the conversation – it can be a difficult subject to broach, but overcoming this fatal reluctance to talk openly about our wishes is key to saving many more lives in the future.

Only about half of adults on the current organ register say they have discussed their wishes with a relative, with people from black backgrounds among the least likely to have had an open conversation.

This is significant as only about six percent of deceased donors are black or asian, meaning that these patients are waiting six months longer for a suitable kidney transplant than white patients.

Ciara from Crystal Palace, who was listed for a second kidney transplant in August 2016, said:

I am fortunate in that I continue to believe I can live a very full life. I trust the right kidney will come along at the right time as was the case for my first transplant.

An important part of the consultation process is raising awareness around the matter of choice and how an opt-out system smoothens out logistics as well as raises the potential donor pool.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said:

The Government’s commitment to an opt-out system is a commitment to ending the agonising pain felt by families who risk losing a loved one while they wait for an organ. There is a desperate shortage of organ donors in the UK, but around 8 in 10 of us say we do want to donate our organs.

Introducing an opt-out system in England will mean more people get the life-saving heart transplant they desperately need. In the meantime, it’s still important for all of us to have conversations with our loved ones about organ donation so our wishes can be met if the worst should happen.

Fiona Loud, Director of Policy at Kidney Care UK, said:

With eight out of ten people on the transplant list hoping for a kidney and at least one person dying every day while waiting, this consultation – the first of its kind in England – is a unique chance to change this. Whatever your views are on organ donation, please share them; and it’s a good time to make sure your loved ones know how you feel too because currently we have one of the lowest rates of consent to donation in Europe.

We have an opportunity to hear everyone’s ideas on improving consent and to reduce the number of people dying needlessly whilst waiting for a transplant so we urge everyone to take part, make your views known, and help shape the future of organ donation and transplantation in England.

Dr John Chisholm, British Medical Association, Medical Ethics Committee Chair, said:

This consultation into the future of organ donation in England is welcome news and an important opportunity for groups such as the BMA who’ve advocated for a ‘soft’ opt-out system to have their views heard.

Many patients are anxiously awaiting news of whether they will receive a life-saving transplant and we hope this is the first step towards addressing the serious shortage of organs for donation in England.

We hope this consultation allows the public to become fully aware of the process and that the potential increase in transplants can be facilitated and matched with adequate resources.

Orin Lewis, Chief Executive of Afro-Caribbean Leukemia Trust & Co-Chair of National BAME Transplant Alliance:

As a parent of a young man who sadly passed away from Multiple Organ Failure, I gladly welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to instigate a much needed public Consultation on the relative positive and negative merits of England having an Opt Out Donation policy. Looking forward I am expecting a wide spectrum of heated but ultimately constructive views and opinions from key stakeholders across the public domain, with the end goal of ultimately saving many more lives across the wide diversity of patients in England needing an organ transplant.

Millie Banerjee, Chair of NHS Blood and Transplant, said:

We welcome the Government’s commitment to the lifesaving power of organ donation, which is demonstrated by their desire to hold a consultation into an opt out system. We support any initiative which leads to more organ donors and more lives being saved. We hope the consultation starts a national conversation about organ donation. If you want to donate, please tell your family now.

Notes to editors:

The consultation will run for twelve weeks concluding on 6 March, after which a Government response will be published.

The consultation can be found here:

To mark the launch, the Health Secretary visited St. George’s hospital in Tooting, speaking to transplant surgeons and the families of several deceased organ donors.


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