Investment needs to follow new law on organ donation - David McColgan

Almost five years to the day, Scotland took its first steps towards giving the gift of life to many more people, when a Members’ Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament which sought to change the law on organ donation.

David McColgan, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BHF Scotland

That Bill was instigated by British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland’s campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the change and later this month, the issue comes full circle. On March 26th, new legislation will see Scotland adopt an opt-out system, meaning everyone will automatically be considered an organ and tissue donor unless they opt-out.

The law has been passed to save and improve lives. On average across the UK three people die each day in need of a new organ. Around 500 people in Scotland are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Tragically, there is a drastic shortage of donors meaning many people are living with life-limiting illnesses and an uncertain future.

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A heart transplant may be the last option for people with end stage heart failure for which there is no cure. Around 200 heart transplants are carried out in the UK every year, but more people could benefit if the number of donors increased. We believe the new law will offer patients the much-needed hope that a donor will be found before it’s too late.

The legislation also paves the way for a shift in our social perceptions relating to organ donation.

The key difference for families living in an opt-out system is that in the absence of a recorded decision, they will know their relative could have opted-out but chose not to do so. We know from Wales, where family consent increased by nearly 50% in the first two years after the change to an opt-out system, that the legislation can support families to make informed decisions. It’s a situation we want to replicate here in Scotland.

And we must continue to talk to each other about organ donation. Knowing our loved ones wishes in the event of their death and sharing our own is vital. It’s a conversation we all need to have. Donation is, of course, a personal decision and it is important to stress that we still have a choice whether or not we want to donate under the new system.

The new legislation follows similar changes elsewhere in the UK. In 2015, Wales became the first country in the UK to implement a soft opt-out system for organ donation, followed by England in May 2020. In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health recently completed a public consultation on the issue.

Organ donation opt-out isn’t the end of the journey. We have taken a huge step forward but for Scotland to deliver a world class organ donation system, the change in law needs to be supported by investment in infrastructure, highly skilled and trained staff and education and resources.

Countries like Spain, Croatia and Portugal have already introduced an opt-out system. Spain, which has the world’s highest rates of organ donation and the shortest waiting list for transplantation, has introduced a comprehensive programme of education, communication and health service strengthening to complement the law.

We believe that the Scottish Government needs to follow in these footsteps and ensure that the law is supported by a similar framework. In doing so, we will offer those waiting today, and in the future, the greatest opportunity of a second chance of life.

David McColgan, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BHF Scotland


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