Organ Donation

Elements of the new Organ Transplantation strategy explained

Taking Organ Transplantation to 2020: A UK strategy has been launched by NHS Blood and Transplant and the four UK health departments.

The strategy sets the agenda for increasing organ donation and transplantation rates to world class standards over the next seven years and builds on success in increasing deceased donation rates by 50% since 2008.

One of the key aims of the strategy is to improve consent/authorisation rates to organ donation to above 80% (currently 57%). NHS Blood and Transplant believes that public attitudes will need to change if the UK is going to achieve such a shift in consent rates.

We know that almost everyone would take an organ if they needed one - but only 31% of the UK population are currently signed up to the NHS Organ Donor Register and only 57% of families overall agree to donation when they are asked.

One question being discussed in the media to generate debate around organ donation is whether it is fair to take an organ if you wouldn't be prepared to give one?

People are currently listed for transplant and organs allocated according to clinical need. Clear policies are in place and are followed by clinicians and hospitals across the NHS.

The new strategy does not propose moving to a system of reciprocity, where those on the Organ Donor Register receive higher priority if they need to be placed on the transplant waiting list. The strategy does however call for national debates to test public attitudes to a range of more radical actions which could increase the number of organ donors.

Overriding wishes
Another question raised by the strategy is whether families should be allowed to override the wishes of a loved one who expressed their wish to donate during their lifetime.

The new strategy states that "where individuals have given express consent, it is important that this consent is honoured and that families accept their relative's intention."

Unfortunately, many people who support organ donation and that want to be a donor if and when they can, don't tell their families that they have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register. NHS Blood and Transplant believes that if more people have a conversation with their loved ones to make their wishes known, less families will find it difficult to agree to donation when they are approached about doing so.

Although the current law does not give families a right to overrule someone's wishes around organ donation made in life, in practice, clinicians and donation staff would not go ahead with donation if a family cannot support it.

As part of the strategy the UK will continue to review existing systems in other counties, such as America, where families are not permitted to override pre-existing consent so people can be confident their pledge will be respected.

Smokers and drinkers
Each day three people in the UK die in need of a transplant. There are simply not enough donated organs.

Every year only around 5,000 people of the half a million people who die in the UK, die in circumstances where they could donate their organs. To establish whether someone's organs could bring benefit to a patient waiting for a transplant, clinicians carry out extensive tests. Do not presume that you live too unhealthy a lifestyle to potentially be a donor and help save the lives of others.

NHS Blood and Transplant urges everyone who supports donation to sign up to the Organ Donor Register as individuals simply cannot know in life whether their organs could help someone else when they die. This is the focus of Transplant Week 2013 - where a number of celebrities including David Harewood, Kay Burley, Richard Branson and Wil Johnson have supported our campaign to encourage people to talk to their loved ones about their donation wishes. To learn more

If you smoke, drink or feel you are too old to donate, but support donation, join the NHS Organ Donor Register at

40% of lungs used for transplant come from smokers and the guidelines make clear that recipients of those organs should be informed that the organs on offer are from a smoker giving them the opportunity to decline the organ should they so wish. If lungs from smokers weren't used, lungs available for transplantation would fall by nearly half, waiting lists would increase and many more patients would die without a transplant.

Age is not a barrier to being an organ or tissue donor. People in their 70s and 80s have become organ donors and saved lives. For more information about becoming a donor and to access frequently asked questions about eligibility and the consent process -

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