Organ donation: What are the facts?

Around one in a hundred people who die in the UK die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs.

Every year around 1,400 people donate their organs across the UK when they die, but a shortage of donors means that hundreds of people on the transplant waiting list are dying each year.

There are 6,309 people waiting for a transplant in the UK, while 1,489 people have received a transplant since April 2019.

– What is the current situation?

A child in the background and an organ donor card in the foreground
Children can join the NHS organ donation register with parental consent (NHS Blood and Transplant)

Currently, donors must opt in for their organs to be donated, with many people carrying a donor card.

If their intentions are unknown, their families or closest friends will be consulted.

Children can join the NHS organ donor register in England, although parents must give consent for donation.

– Why are some donations being blocked?

NHS Blood and Transplant said the most common reason for families not supporting donation is that they are not sure if it is what their relative would have wanted.

In the majority of refusals an individual’s organ donation views were not known or recorded.

Figures revealed that in 79 of the 835 family refusals in 2018-19, a patient’s donation registration or expression of interest in donation was overruled by relatives.

– What are the challenges?

While the number of people who donated organs after they died reached a record high last year, the number of living and eligible organ donors, organs donated and transplants all fell compared to the previous 12 months.

Authors of the annual NHS Blood and Transplant report on organ donation activity, released earlier this year, warned that it will be “increasingly challenging” to maintain annual increases in donor numbers.

The report identified changing characteristics in donors who are becoming older, more obese and less likely to have died through trauma, all adversely impacting on transplant outcomes.

– How will the law change?

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From Spring 2020, England and Scotland will introduce an opt out system for organ donation, following the example of Wales in December 2015.

When the new law comes into force, there will be a presumption of consent for organ donation unless a person has indicated that they do not wish to donate.

The change is known as Max and Keira’s Law after a boy who received a heart transplant and a girl who donated it.

Families will continue to be consulted, and the process will not go ahead without their support.

People can also nominate a special representative to make the decision.

– Who will it affect?

All adults – those aged over 18 in England and over 16 in Scotland – will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate or are in an excluded group.

Some groups will be exempt from the system, including under-18s, people who lack the capacity to understand the law change and people who have lived in England for less than 12 months.

– What could the impact be?

Wales now has the highest consent rate in the UK – 77%, up from 58% in 2015.

Experts hope that once the law change comes into force and public awareness increases, similar increases will be seen in England and Scotland, with hundreds of lives saved each year.

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