Health Secretary calls for public to put aside taboo of organ donation to save thousands of lives

12 December 2017        

Category: Survival and support

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on people to overcome a “fatal reluctance” to talk about organ donation with relatives, as he launches a major public consultation on plans to introduce a new opt-out system.

Figures from NHS Blood and Transplant show that in the past year around 1,100 families in the UK decided not to allow organ donation because they were unsure, or did not know whether their relatives would have wanted to donate an organ or not.

Every day three patients die needing a new organ

In October, the Prime Minister announced that the Government will change to an ‘opt-out’ system, shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation, in a bid to save the lives of the 6,500 people currently waiting for a transplant.

Currently, 80 percent of people say they would be willing to donate their organs but only 36 percent register to become an organ donor. It is hoped that changing the system to an opt-out model of consent will mean more viable organs become available for use on the NHS, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Consultation on opt-out organ donation launched

With the launch of the consultation today, Mr Hunt is starting an open conversation about opt-out organ donation.

Over the next three months, the Government is asking for comments on the defining issues of the new system:

  • How much say should families have in their deceased relative’s decision to donate their organs?
  • When would exemptions to ‘opt-out’ be needed, and what safeguards will be necessary?
  • How might a new system affect certain groups depending on age, disability, race or faith? 

Changing the conversation on organ donation

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:  

“As well as changing the law, we also need to change the conversation – it can be a difficult subject to broach, but overcoming this fatal reluctance to talk openly about our wishes is key to saving many more lives in the future.”

Only about half of adults on the current organ register say they have discussed their wishes with a relative, with people from black backgrounds among the least likely to have had an open conversation. 

This is significant as only about six percent of deceased donors are black or asian, meaning that these patients are waiting six months longer for a suitable kidney transplant than white patients. 

BHF backs consultation

Simon Gillespie, our Chief Executive, added: 

“The Government’s commitment to an opt-out system is a commitment to ending the agonising pain felt by families who risk losing a loved one while they wait for an organ. There is a desperate shortage of organ donors in the UK, but around 8 in 10 of us say we do want to donate our organs. 

“Introducing an opt-out system in England will mean more people get the life-saving heart transplant they desperately need. In the meantime, it’s still important for all of us to have conversations with our loved ones about organ donation so our wishes can be met if the worst should happen.”