Call for nationwide opt-out organ donation system

8 December 2015        

Category: Survival and support

An image of surgeons carrying out heart surgery Today we’re backing a campaign launched by The Sun calling for all UK governments to introduce an opt-out organ donation system that we believe could save many more lives every year.  

Last week, Wales became the first UK nation to launch a presumed consent system for organ donation, following tireless campaigning by organisations including the British Heart Foundation.  Under the scheme, people are presumed to consent to donating their organs, unless they state otherwise. 

Latest figures show the number of people desperately waiting for a heart transplant has more than doubled in just five years, with 281 people currently on the waiting list. Heart transplant rates in countries that use an opt-out system such as Croatia, Belgium and France, are more than double the rate in the UK.

Our Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, said: “There is a desperate shortage of organ donors and more must be done to encourage people to consider donation and discuss it with their families. Donating an organ is one of the most inspiring and selfless things you can do. Millions of people support it but haven’t signed the register to make their wishes clear.

“Other European countries, such as Spain and Belgium, where they already use an opt-out system, are benefitting from much higher donor rates than the UK. As the nation’s leading heart research charity we are supporting The Sun’s pioneering campaign to increase the number of organ donors and help save more lives by urging governments across the UK to introduce a soft opt-out system.”

Suzanne's story

Suzanne Duncan from Northern Ireland is backing the campaign after her husband Andrew Duncan died last year aged just 38 while waiting for a heart transplant. Suzanne and her children are now calling for more people to sign the organ donation register and for the Government to introduce a presumed consent organ donation system. 

Suzanne said: “Andrew died just over a year ago from an inherited condition called dilated cardiomyopathy that caused his heart to fail. He had been on the transplant list for three years, but a donor heart never became available.”

“Throughout his illness, Andrew remained extremely positive. He was determined to support the BHF in raising awareness of the organ donation register and campaigning for a change in the law to presumed consent. In his memory, our family is now continuing to support this campaign. We would do anything to get the law changed to stop more families having to experience the death of a loved one waiting for an organ transplant.”  

Research to improve heart transplants

As part of the campaign, The Sun is featuring BHF funded research to improve the success rates of heart transplantation. 

Sometimes when an organ is transplanted from one person to another, the body's immune system attacks the new implant. Patients take drugs called immuno-suppressants to avoid this, but these can lead to serious health problems as the body’s immune system is weakened so stops fighting off infections. 

Researchers have known for some time that a certain type of white blood cell - called T lymphocytes - attack transplanted organs. However, with our funding, Professor Federica Marelli-Berg and her team from Queen Mary University of London are the first to discover a way to identify these T cells that selectively attack the transplanted heart.

Professor Marelli-Berg said: "It's a very exciting development and could mean patients would suffer fewer side effects after a transplant operation. It would hopefully improve success rates and save lives."

Join the organ donor register

We support changing organ donation to a soft opt-out system, where everyone is considered to want to donate their organs unless they state otherwise.