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We welcome NHS plans to address organ donation and transplantation pressures

25 March 2019

Over the weekend, you may have listened to and seen media coverage about the pressures currently on the NHS organ donation and transplantation system and how the NHS in England is addressing these, both now and after Max and Keira’s ‘opt out’ law is introduced next year.

By telling their story, several transplant recipients showed the huge impact this system is having on people, by saving their lives, and enabling them to thrive.

But the media coverage also described the system as being at breaking point and that it often relies on the goodwill of NHS staff. Occasionally (and this is rare) organ transplants have been delayed or cancelled due to bed and staff shortages, and operating theatre availability. This is not a problem that is unique to transplantation.

Ensuring the system can cope

Organ donation and transplantation takes place in a challenging and intense working environment where time is critical. Every minute counts and the unpredictability of this work means the NHS is constantly working under pressure.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), the organisation in charge of the organ donation and transplantation system as well as blood donations, has explained the measures they will be implementing to help the system cope. These include recruiting additional specialist nurses to co-ordinate the donation process and support every family through it.

“We are pleased to hear that NHSBT will continue working with the NHS and relevant departments to to hopefully ensure the resources are in place to make the most of every donated organ and provide the best care for donors, families and people still waiting for their life-saving transplants,” says our Chief Executive Sandra Currie. “This is crucial both now and after Max and Keira’s law comes into force.”

We hope these changes will help play a part in relieving the current pressures and ensure people on transplant lists are able to receive the organs they vitally need.

The impact of the new law

When the new law comes into place in England next year and people opt out of organ donation rather than opt in, the number of deceased organ donors and transplants is likely to rise. Legislation is also underway in Scotland, similarly looking at introducing an opt out system. In Wales an equivalent law was introduced in 2015, and the number of donor families giving permission for their loved one to be an organ donor has risen.

If this also happens in England and Scotland, this means there should be more kidneys available for people who are waiting for a transplant. A voluntary opt-in system still exists in Northern Ireland.

More than 5,000 people in the UK - that’s 80 per cent of the organ transplant waiting list - are waiting for a kidney. Currently only around 3,000 kidney transplants are carried out each year, and around 250 people die each year waiting for one.

We hope that Max and Keira’s law means more kidney transplants can take place, and the NHS has the resources to support this, offering hope to more people on the transplant list.

Our research to improve transplantation and encourage donation

We recognise that kidney transplantation is the only option for some people to survive. But transplanted kidneys only last around 10-15 years on average, so we are funding research to make transplants work better and last longer.

And we want to improve attitudes to organ donation in communities where there is stigma or religious issues around organ donation. Our work to address kidney health inequalities aims to find ways to reach out to these communities and help more families to consider organ donation.

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