Thousands of life-saving organ transplant opportunities missed last year

As many as 2,500 more life-saving organ transplants could have taken place in the UK last year if families had spoken more openly about donating after death, the NHS said.

2018 was a record year for organ donation with 67% of UK families agreeing to donate. However, according to a recent survey by NHS Blood and Transplant, family refusals were the main reason for organ donation not going ahead. And, in circumstances where a family didn’t know what their relatives wanted, they were far less likely to give their consent.

A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant said 835 families declined to support organ donation last year, for reasons other than knowing that their relative didn’t wish to be a donor. The most common reason for those families refusing to support donation was not being sure whether it is what their relative would have wanted.

In 79 out of the 835 family refusals, the patient had registered or expressed a positive organ donation decision, which the family then overruled, refusing to support their loved ones’ decision. However, for the vast majority, the individual’s organ donation views were not known or not recorded.

The spokesman said if all of those 835 families had supported donation and the donation was able to proceed, this could have led to an additional 2,500 extra transplants, based on the average number of transplants per deceased donor over the course of year.

From spring 2020 the law is changing to an ‘opt out’ system in England, which means all adults 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 one of the excluded groups.  However, families will still have the final say on what happens with their loved ones’ organs.

In the run-up to the law change, NHS Blood and Transplant is urging families across England to talk about their organ donation decision.

Mikala Waters is backing the call for more families to talk about organ donation, following the death of her younger sister Tracie, who died aged 31, after waiting two and a half years for a kidney and pancreas transplant. She said:

‘Watching Tracie go through all she suffered was quite simply heartbreaking for all of us. Her condition affected the whole family. Everyone’s lives were put on hold while we waited anxiously for the transplant.

‘We all believed that the call would come and it was only a matter of time. When time finally ran out, and Tracie died, we were all left devastated.

‘We urge families to talk about organ donation today and hopefully save others from the devastation that our family has faced. We need more donors to save more lives every day.’

Anthony Clarkson, director of organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said families will still be told before their loved ones’ organs are donated. He said:

‘Even after the law around organ donation changes in England and Scotland next year, families will still be approached before organ donation goes ahead.

‘We urge everyone to register their organ donation decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and tell your family the choice you have made. If the time comes, we know families find the organ donation conversation with our nurses much easier if they already know what their relative wanted.’

Click here to join the donor register.

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