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Black community has highest ratio of patients waiting for a transplant to organ donors

For every black deceased donor last year, there were 31 black patients in need of an organ.

22 October 2019

The ratio of patients waiting for a lifesaving transplant to organ donors is 10 times higher for black people than for white people, figures from NHS Blood and Transplant show.

For every black person who donated their organs after they died last year, there were 31 black patients waiting for a transplant 1. This compares with three white patients on the waiting list for every white deceased donor, underlining the severe shortage of black organ donors.

Although more than 300 organ transplants for black patients were carried out in the UK last year, the majority received an organ from a white donor. However, for many patients the best blood and tissue match, and the best outcome from their transplant, will come from a donor of the same ethnicity.

NHS Blood and Transplant has revealed the figures during Black History Month as it urges more black people to decide they want to be a lifesaving organ donor and tell their families.

Last year 20 black people donated organs after they died, and 25 black people donated a kidney as a living donor.

In contrast there are 630 black patients in need of a lifesaving transplant 2. Sadly, last year 19 died while on the transplant waiting list – so black donors are urgently needed to help end the wait.

Black families are less likely to say yes to organ donation when approached in hospitals. Last year, 32 percent agreed to donate a loved one’s organs compared with 70 percent of white families and 40 percent of Asian families.

Henry's story

Henry walks his daughter Ebuzo down the aisle on her wedding dayEbuzo Fabiyi agreed to organ donation after her father, Henry Ihezue, died suddenly last November at the age of 66.

She says it has brought her family comfort knowing that her father, a medical doctor for much of his career, has helped others. Three people were able to receive transplants following his donation.

Ebuzo, a sonographer who works in Essex, said: “Dad was a very calm, good-natured man who always wanted to help people; very dependable and would talk to anyone for hours.

“He wasn’t on the NHS Organ Donor Register but as a family we had no hesitation in agreeing to donate his organs. We knew we had done the right thing.

“It has brought our family a great sense of pride, knowing we were able to help so many people when they needed it. Organ donation brings something positive out of a sad situation.”

(Photo: Ebuzo Fabiyi and her father Henry Ihezue)

Black patients are significantly over-represented on the transplant list, accounting for 11 percent of those waiting for an organ compared with 2.5 percent of the whole UK population.

They wait the longest for a suitable organ and almost a year longer than white patients for a kidney 3, the most commonly transplanted organ.

Black patients are also less likely to receive a transplant from a living donor of the same ethnic background. Last year, only half of black living transplant recipients received an organ from a donor of the same ethnicity compared with two thirds of Asian patients 4.

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Black patients in desperate need of a transplant to save or drastically improve their lives are depending on people from their community to decide they want to be a lifesaving donor, either after they die or during their lifetime through living donation.

“Organ donation is a very dignified and respectful process. The donor is treated with the greatest care, and our nurses work with families to ensure all their faith and cultural considerations are respected.

“Please make this Black History Month the time you choose to save lives. Tell your loved ones you want to be an organ donor and ask them what they want too.”

Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said: “It cannot be right that every year, hundreds of black people spend far longer than they should waiting for a transplant – with many tragically dying during this time.

“This Black History Month, I am calling on those from the black community to consider whether donation is appropriate for them or their families. This is a real chance at saving a person’s life and an incredible gift to a member of your community.”

Organ donation law is changing

In 2020, the law around organ donation will be changing in both England and Scotland. Both countries will be introducing an opt out system* for organ donation, just as Wales did in December 2015 and Jersey did in July this year.

While being an organ donor is down to individual choice, it is concerning that the majority of people who have recorded an opt out decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and this could further impact patients in need of organ transplants from their communities.

Some people are concerned about the process itself, or whether their faith or beliefs will be respected, so NHS Blood and Transplant is encouraging people to find out more about organ donation and about the position of their faith or belief system.

Videos answering some of the common myths and misconceptions about organ donation can be viewed at the NHS Organ Donation YouTube channel

Find out more and register your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and share your decision with your family.

Story notes

  1. Figures taken from the Transplant Activity Report for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities for the period April 2018 - March 2019. Black: 20 deceased donors and 630 on the transplant waiting list; White: 1,468 deceased donors and 4,105 on the transplant waiting list.
  2. Transplant waiting list at 31 March 2019.
  3. Median waits for a kidney transplant are 965 days for black patients, 830 days for Asian patients, 810 days for other ethnic minority patients, 640 days for white patients.
  4. 51 percent of black patients and 65 percent of Asian patients received a kidney from a living donor of the same ethnicity during 2018/19.

*The opt out system will be coming into effect in England from spring 2020. Excluded groups will include those under the age of 18, people who lack the mental capacity to understand the new arrangements and take the necessary action, visitors to England and those not living here voluntarily, and people who have lived in England for less than 12 months before their death.

Information on the law change in England, who will be covered and excluded groups. Further information on the changes in Scotland.