Highest number of organ transplants ever across UK, but many families still say no to donation

1 September 2016
  • More organ transplants across UK than ever before in 2015/16
  • Donation consent rate increased to 62% but still too low
  • People from Black and Asian backgrounds are less likely to have decided to donate but are needed more than ever
  • 26% of the current waiting list are people from Black or Asian communities and need donors from their own community
  • Family refusal is biggest obstacle to donation says NHS Blood and Transplant

More people than ever before across the UK donated their organs after their deaths last year, according to the Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report 2015/16, being published today.

In 2015/16, 1,364 people became organ donors when they died and their donations resulted in 3,519 transplants taking place.

The UK still has one of the lowest rates of consent (authorisation in Scotland) in Europe. NHS Blood and Transplant, the organisation responsible for organ donation in the UK, urges families to talk about organ donation so more families are prepared to donate their relative’s organs if asked to do so.

The UK Strategy ‘Taking Organ Transplantation to 2020’ set a target to increase consent rates from 57% in 2012/13 to 80% by 2020, to match the best countries in the world. Yet since 2013 it has only increased by 5% to 62%, meaning last year almost 4 out of ten families who were approached, did not agree to donation taking place.

While overall consent rates have risen slightly, a supplementary report also published today by NHS Blood and Transplant shows there remains a significant gap between the proportion of white families agreeing to donate and those from Black, Asian or other minority ethnic communities. Organ Donation and Transplantation Data for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities reveals that in 2015/16, the consent rate for potential donors from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities was almost half that of white patients – 34% compared to 66%. Only 5% (67) of all deceased organ donors were from Black and Asian backgrounds.

This is a particular concern, as people from Black and Asian communities have a higher incidence of conditions such as diabetes and certain forms of hepatitis, making them more likely to need a transplant. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic patients make up a third of the active kidney transplant waiting list. Although some are able to receive a transplant from a white donor, for many the best match will come from a donor from the same ethnic background. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic donors are needed to improve the chances of these patients getting the kidney transplant they need.

Organ donation is a relatively rare event in the UK, because although more than half a million people die each year, only around 1% do so in circumstances which allow organs to be donated. This means that when a family says no to donation, someone waiting for a transplant may miss out on their only opportunity for a transplant.

Last year, 466 patients died in need of an organ and a further 881 were removed from the transplant waiting list. Many of them would have died shortly afterwards.

NHS Blood and Transplant estimates that if 80% of families approached to donate a relative’s organs said yes, more than 1,000 additional transplants would take place across the UK each year.²

Families are more likely to agree to donation when a patient’s decision is known to them. Almost 9 out of ten families in 2015/16 agreed to donation when the patient’s decision was known, but fewer than 5 out of ten agreed when the patient’s decision was not known at the time of the potential donation.

Sally Johnson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant said:

“We’re very grateful to every family who supported a relative’s decision to donate or who made the decision to donate on behalf of their loved one last year. Quite simply, without them being willing to support donation more than 3,500 transplants couldn’t have taken place. Many families tell us they take huge comfort in knowing that their relative has saved the lives of others.

“We recognise that families are approached about organ donation at a difficult time, but with almost all of us prepared to take an organ if we need one, we need to be ready to donate too. Think about what we would want others to do for us if we ever need a transplant and be prepared to donate. Talking to your relatives about what you want is crucial as it is much more difficult to agree to donation when you don’t know what the patient would have wanted. There are around 6,500 people waiting for a transplant now and they need people to agree to donate for them to get the organ transplant they so desperately need.

“It is especially important for people from our Black and Asian communities to talk about organ donation. I realise that this is a very difficult subject but there are many Black and Asian people who need a transplant. While some are able to receive an organ from a white donor, others will die if there is no donor from their own community.”

Next week, during Organ Donation Week, (5th to 11th September) NHS Blood and Transplant will be asking people to start a conversation with their families about organ donation. Telling them you want to be an organ donor makes it easier for them to support your decision.

Join the NHS Organ Donor Register online or call 0300 123 2323.


  1. Figures relate to the financial year April 2015 – March 2016 inclusive. Figures are for the number of transplants thanks to donations from deceased donors
  2. In 2015/16, 1,364 deceased donors gave 3,919 organs for transplant, an average of 2.87 organs per donor. The consent rate in 2015/16 was 62%. An increase of 18% to 80% would result in 396 more donors and a potential 1,140 more organs for transplant. NB Some patients receive multi-organ transplants, hence the number of organs for transplant this year is greater than the number of patients who received a transplant.

For more information or interviews please contact the NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 01923 367600 or pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk. Out of hours contact 0117 969 2444

Key Stats from the Transplant Activity Report

  • In the financial year to 31 March 2016, compared with the previous year.
  • There was a 6% increase in the number of deceased donors to 1,364, the highest number ever in the UK
  • The number of living donors fell by 2% to 1,075, accounting for approximately half of the total number of organ donors
  • The total number of patients whose lives were saved or improved by an organ transplant increased by 4% to 4,601
  • 3,779 patients had their sight restored through a cornea transplant, representing a small increase of 1%
  • The total number of patients registered for a transplant has fallen slightly (by 4%), so that there were 6,476 patients waiting for a transplant at the end of March 2016, with a further 3,452 temporarily suspended from transplant lists
  • 466 patients died while on the active waiting list for their transplant and a further 881 were removed from the transplant list. The removals were mostly as a result of deteriorating health and ineligibility for transplant and many of these patients would have died shortly afterwards.
  • In 2015/16, 33.6% of families from a BAME background gave consent for donation, compared to 65.8% of white families
  • There are currently 1,686 Black and Asian patients waiting for an organ transplant. (at 25.08.2016)

Notes to Editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. We are responsible for ensuring a safe and efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England. We are also the organ donation organisation for the UK and are responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.
  • We are an essential part of the NHS and take pride in saving and improving lives by making the most of every voluntary donation, from blood and organs to tissues and stem cells.
  • Our work would not be possible without our donors - ordinary people doing extraordinary things by saving and improving the lives of others.
  • It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or contact our 24 hour a day donor line - 0300 123 23 23.
  • The register records your decision on whether you want to donate your organs and/or tissue after your death to save and improve the lives of others. It is used by authorised medical staff to establish whether someone has registered an organ donation decision.
  • Letting your family know your organ donation decision will make it much easier for them to support what you want.
  • Every day across the UK around three people who could have benefited from a transplant die because there aren’t enough organ donors. We need more people to agree to organ donation
  • Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, age and medical conditions are not necessarily a barrier to donation.
  • One donor can save or transform up to nine lives through organ donation and transform even more by donating tissue.