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Hundreds of organ donations missed due to ignorance

460 potential organ transplants missed every year, says NHSBT

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 04 September 2017

Almost 460 possible organ donations needed in the UK last year were missed because families did not know the wishes of their relative so could not give permission, according to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

The agency has today published figures to coincide with Organ Donation Week (September 4 to 10) urging people to discuss with families whether or not they want to become an organ donor after death.

Currently, there are an estimated 6,414 people waiting for a transplant in the UK and last year, 457 people died while on the active transplant waiting list and a further 875 people were removed from the list, mainly due to ill health. Many of these people will have died shortly after being removed.

According to NHSBT’s annual audit of potential donors in 2016-17, 177 families said no to donation because “they were not sure whether the patient would have agreed”.

Based on last year’s average number of 2.6 transplants per deceased donor, those refusals could instead have led to around 460 lifesaving or life transforming transplants, said the agency.

NHSBT commissioned YouGov to research specifically on organ donation conversations and it surveyed 2,656 adults earlier this year.

Just under half (49%) of people had had a conversation with a partner or family member about organ donation.

The most common reasons people gave for not having the conversation were – ‘it never came up’ (33%), ‘do not want to talk about death’ (16%), ‘not got around to it yet’ (17%), ‘donating organs is a personal choice, do not need to talk about it’ (14%), and ‘others would not feel comfortable talking about it’ (11%).

The majority of people (58%) who have joined the NHS Organ Donation Register (ODR) did so from driving licence applications and reminders through the DVLA in 2016-17 while only 9% registered through their GP and 30% did so online.

Anthony Clarkson, assistant director of organ donation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Hundreds of people are dying unnecessarily every year waiting for transplants. We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved.”

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There are over 250 people on the waiting list, but only 200 heart transplants took place last year in the UK. For these people, it’s an agonising wait for a new heart that could mean the difference between life and death.

“It takes two minutes to sign up to the Organ Donor Register, and even less time to have a conversation with your loved one about your wishes. This might seem like a difficult conversation, but it could save the lives of people in desperate need of a heart transplant, and ensure your wishes are respected after death.”

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