More than 50,000 people now alive thanks to organ donation and transplant

11 July 2017

The number of people currently known to be alive thanks to organ transplants has broken 50,000 for the first time.

This increase is revealed in this year’s UK Transplant Activity Report 2016/17, published today by NHS Blood and Transplant.

There are now 50,300 people alive today thanks to organ transplants – more than enough to fill Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and almost enough to fill Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. (1)

This includes:

  • Kidney transplants – 36,300 people
  • Pancreas transplants – 1,900 people
  • Cardiothoracic (heart or lung or combined heart/lung) transplants – 3,900 people
  • Liver transplants – 9,800 people
  • Intestinal transplants - 100 people

The milestone figure has been reached thanks to record levels of public support for organ donation and improvements in survival rates.

The number of people receiving a transplant in a single year has reached the record figure of 4,753, an increase of 20% in the last five years. The increase means that nearly 800 more people a year have their lives or improved by transplants than they did five years ago. (2)

The number of people on the NHS Organ Donor Register also reached a record number, 23.6 million, up by 4.9 million over five years. Now 36% of the UK’s population is on the NHS Organ Donor Register, compared to 30% five years ago. (3)

Survival rates continue to improve. An adult receiving the most common type of kidney transplant during the early 1990s had a 66% chance it would still be functioning after five years. Today’s report shows adults who receiving the same type of transplant five years ago have an 87% chance their kidney is still functioning today. (4)

Many more recipients are now able to enjoy fuller lives, including starting families of their own.

Julie Melady, 47, from Fishtoft in Lincolnshire, had a lifesaving liver transplant 32 years ago at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for hepatitis when she was aged just 15.

Julie, a mortgage and protection advisor, went on marry husband Stephen and have two children, Billy, 10, and Jasmine, who is the same age as Julie when she had her transplant, 15.

“Someone lost their child but they made the decision that saved my life. That gave me the chance to go on and have children - my donor didn’t just save one life, they produced another two,” said Julie.

Julie Melady

“I think things have changed over the years and a lot more people are joining the NHS Organ Donor Register now. If you are happy to donate you should get yourself signed up and let your family know, and take that difficult decision away from them.”

Eleanor Brinkley, aged 8, from Rugby, had a lifesaving liver transplant last summer. She was born with the rare and incurable genetic disorder PFIC-2 (Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 2).

Mum Claire, 45, said: “We had a horrendous time on the waiting list. 

“You know your child will die without a major operation, then you are told there might not ever be an operation because there are not enough donors.

“She needed tube feeding because her body wasn’t absorbing nutrients. I was told she didn’t have long left with her poorly liver.

“We got the call at 7am in the morning. I sobbed and begged the transplant co-ordinator ‘please let this be the one’. At around 6pm that evening, Eleanor went into theatre.

“Someone amazing gave us all of this and we will never forget them. Because of her wonderful donor, I got to see her first day at junior school, I may see her graduate, celebrate her wedding day, and become a mother herself.”

Despite the record breaking public commitment to donation, the overall shortage of donated organs remains. The report reveals 457 people died last year while on the active transplant waiting list. A further 875 people were removed from the list, mainly because they were too ill to undergo transplant surgery. Many of these patients will have died shortly after removal from the list. There are still around 6,400 people currently waiting for a transplant.

Sally Johnson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “More people than ever are agreeing to organ donation and that is saving more lives than ever. This is an immense achievement. It’s amazing to picture all the people now alive today thanks to organ donation and think of all the families and children who have grown up thanks to donors.

“We’re seeing more and more people committing to donation and the good results of our close work with hospitals. Our specialist nurses in organ donation are now almost always involved in discussions with families over organ donation.

“However there is still a long way to go. Around three people still die a day in need of a transplant. Every one of those people who die could be a mother or a father, a daughter or a son, who might be alive today.

“Families tell us donation is a source of pride that helps them in their grieving process. We don’t want anyone to miss the opportunity to save lives. Please join the NHS Organ Donor Register. It only takes two minutes.”

John Forsythe, Associate Director for Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “I have the privileged job of seeing sick patients returned to full health after a transplant. Sometimes I don’t even recognise people I have known for years because of how their appearance has been totally transformed. More and more people are now going on to lead full lives thanks to the precious gift of organ donation.”

Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price said: “Organ donation transforms and saves lives – these numbers show excellent progress and are a testament to the brilliant work of NHS Blood and Transplant and all those involved. Now we need more organ donors to come forward so everyone requiring a transplant stands the best chance of receiving one.”

In 2013, the UK Governments and NHS Blood and Transplant launched a seven-year organ donation and transplantation strategy Taking Organ Transplantation to 2020.

View full Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report 2016/17

Please join the NHS Organ Donor Register at

Caption: Julie Melady with husband Stephen, daughter Jasmine and son Billy

  • For additional information please contact Stephen Bailey on 0151 268 7017 or  
  • Alternatively call the NHSBT Press Office on 01923 367 600 or email
  • For out of hours enquiries please call: 0117 969 2444

Press Release Notes

(1) The total approximate number of patients with a functioning transplant on 31 May 2017. This reflects information held on the UK transplant registry database and excludes those patients who are known to be lost to follow-up. If a patient has had a multi-organ transplant (e.g. a kidney and a pancreas) then they would be included in both the kidney and pancreas numbers of the table. This is why the individual organ numbers do not approximately add up to the total.

(2) The 2016/17 Transplant Activity Report shows the number of transplants reached 4,753 during 2016/17.  This is a 20% increase compared to the figure of 3,960 during 2011/12, and it is also a 3.6% year on year increase.

(3) This is an increase of 1.1m people on the NHS Organ Donor Register in one year, and an increase of 4.9m over the past five years.

(4) Adult recipient graft survival after first kidney only transplant from a donor after brain death 1991-1993 was 66% (Source: 2004-5 Transplant Activity Report). Adult recipient graft survival after first kidney only transplant from a donor after brain death 2009-2011 was 87% (Source: 2016-17 Transplant Activity Report.)

Further key statistics about organ donation and transplantation in 2016/17 include:

  • There was a 4% increase in the number of deceased donors to 1,413, the highest number ever.
  • 63% of families agreed to organ donation this year. Last year the figure was 62%, and five years ago it was 55%.
  • The total number of patients registered for a transplant has fallen by 2%, so that 6,389 patients were waiting for a transplant by the end of March 2017.
  • The number of living donors fell by 3% to 1,043. The 1,043 living donors includes 86 altruistic non-directed kidney donations.
  • 93% of families agree to donate if their loved one is on the NHS Organ Donor Register and if they are asked about donation by a Specialist Nurse in Organ Donation.
  • 6.4% of all deceased donors were from BAME communities. This figure is increasing and compares to 4.3% five years ago. However there remains a pressing need for more BAME donors because black and Asian people are more at risk of illnesses that require a transplant, such as diabetes. People from the same ethnic group are more likely to be a match for a transplant. 22% of transplant recipients are from BAME communities.

NHSBT 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.
  • To find out more visit:
  • It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Visit 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.
  • There is a particular need for more black and Asian organ donors. Patients from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are over-represented on the transplant waiting list. More than a quarter (26%) of those on the waiting list are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic while a 1/3 of people on the kidney waiting list are from these communities. 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.
  • Whilst there may be some individual concerns relating to religious or cultural practices, all the major religions support organ donation.