People must make ‘fair’ organ transplant decision

People need to decide if it is fair to accept organ transplants if they are unwilling to donate their organs, say experts. Picture: Rob McDougall/TSPL
People need to decide if it is fair to accept organ transplants if they are unwilling to donate their organs, say experts. Picture: Rob McDougall/TSPL
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PEOPLE need to decide if it is fair to accept an organ transplant if they are unwilling to donate themselves as part of efforts to increase life-saving operations, experts have said.

A UK-wide strategy, published today, calls for national debates to test public attitudes to “radical” actions to increase organ donor numbers.

These could include asking whether those on the donor register should be given a higher priority if they ever need a transplant.

The document, backed by the four UK health departments, will also look at systems where families could be stopped from overriding the wishes of loved-ones who die by not allowing doctors to use their organs.

The report - Taking Organ Transplantation to 2020 - comes ahead of a plan being published by the Scottish Government today (thurs) to build on the ambitions of the UK strategy.

Sally Johnson, director of organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said among politicians, NHS staff, patient groups and the public there was an “overwhelming recognition” that a revolution in attitudes to organ donation was essential in the UK.

She said there urgently needed to be a radical change in the percentage of families who agree to donate their relative’s organs.

“Almost everyone would take an organ if they needed one – but only 57 per cent of families agreed to donation when they were asked,” Ms Johnson said.

“Fewer than 5,000 people a year die in circumstances where they can donate, so we want everyone to be proud to donate when and if they can.

“That means we need to have a serious debate in our society about our attitudes – is it fair to take if you won’t give? Is it acceptable that three people die a day in need of an organ?

“Is it right to allow our organs to be buried or cremated with us when they could save or improve the lives of up to nine people?”

The strategy wants to increase the number of families who allow their loved-one’s organs to be donated from 57 per cent to over 80 per cent.

To help achieve this, the document says the UK governments need to develop strategies to promote “ a shift in behaviour and increase consent”.

School curriculum

This could include making donation and transplant issues part of the school curriculum.

The strategy adds: “There should be national debates to test public attitudes to radical actions to increase the number of organ donors.

“For example, whether those on the Organ Donor Register should receive higher priority if they need to be placed on the transplant waiting list.”

The strategy also says it will look at how a system of presumed consent - where everyone is deemed a donor unless they opt out - works in Wales, where it has just been backed by the Welsh Assembly.

This approach has so far been resisted elsewhere in the UK - despite backing from organisations including the British Medical Association.

Previous efforts to increase transplants across the UK have resulted in a 50 per cent increase in deceased donors since 2007/8 - up from 809 to 1,212 in 2012/13.

Around 7,300 people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant to save or radically improve their lives.

The strategy is hoping to increase the number of deceased donors from 19 per million people in the UK to 26.

It also wants to increase the number of patients receiving a transplant to 74 per million, compared to 49 at present.

It sets out a number of actions the NHS needs to take to ensure as many organs as possible can be transplanted and improve donation services.

Scotland’s Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said: “We welcome the publication of this new UK-wide strategy, which sets out the framework for future work in this important area to enable us to save more lives. The strategy was developed on behalf of the four UK health administrations.

“Our new donation and transplantation plan will complement this strategy by setting out the actions we will take to increase donation and transplantation rates in Scotland.”

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