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‘Opt out’ organ donation law changes in England

19 May 2020

New organ donation laws have come into effect, with England moving to an ‘opt out’ system from today, Wednesday 20 May. 

Under the new system (known as ‘deemed consent’ or ‘opt out’), all adults in England are considered to be a potential organ donor when they die, unless they have informed the NHS Organ Donation Register that they do not wish to donate their organs or are in an excluded group. 

organ donation

The move brings England in line with Wales, which adopted the deemed consent option in 2015. Similar legislation in Scotland is due to be introduced early next year. A voluntary opt in system still exists in Northern Ireland.  

It is hoped the change will help save and improve more lives by making more organs available for transplant. More than 5,000 people in the UK – that’s 80 per cent of the organ transplant waiting list – are waiting for a kidney.  But only around 3,500 kidney transplants are currently carried out each year. Around 250 people die every year waiting for a kidney. 

Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK, welcomed the new system. She said: “We are pleased that this has come into effect in England, with Scotland set to follow next year. With eight out of 10 people on the waiting list needing a kidney transplant, this is life-changing news for kidney patients. Although there are currently some significant delays and disruption to transplant operations, due to the the coronavirus pandemic, this legislation will help more transplants take place when the situation improves. 

The pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable many kidney patients are. Patients on the transplant waiting list who are on dialysis in a unit, are at particularly high risk. While transplants for many are a better option, it brings new risks, as post transplant patients are more susceptible to infection because of the drugs they take to prevent their body rejecting their new organ. This is one reason why improving transplantation outcomes is a key focus of the charity’s new strategy. Our ambition is to ensure transplanted kidneys work better and last longer. Our research has never been more important.” 

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which runs the organ donation and transplantation system, is encouraging people to share their wishes with their family and friends so they are informed about their decision regarding organ donation.  

For more information on how these changes affect you and your family visit: 

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