Urgent organ donation plea as transplant waiting list soars to five-year high

The NHS has issued an ‘urgent plea’ for people to make their loved ones aware of their wishes on organ donation after numbers of patients awaiting transplants climbed to five-year high because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said around 6,700 people are currently in need of surgery in the UK – up from 6,138 prior to the start of the pandemic.

It said that an increase in public support is needed to help people get the transplants they need – despite a “strong recovery” in services with deceased donor transplants now back to pre-Covid levels.

The health body has estimated that the increase in patients waiting – expected to be the highest since 2015/16 – comes after services were impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

A number of transplants were put on hold due to the risk of recipients becoming immunosupporessed. Also, potential donors cannot offer organs if they are positive for Covid-19.

It is hoped that the introduction of Max and Keira’s law – making organ donation in England an “opt out” one – will lead to an increase in donors.

The law, which came into force in May, was named after Keira Ball, who died aged nine in 2017, and Max Johnson, now aged 12, who was saved by her heart. It follows a similar law change in Wales, introduced in 2015, with Scotland due to revert to an opt-out system in Spring 2021.



Following the introduction of the law in England, families are still consulted before organ donation goes ahead, which is why health officials have implored people to make their wishes about donation known to their families.

NHSBT suggested 2,500 “transplant opportunities” were missed due to families saying no to donating their relative’s organs. It advised that 835 families declined to support organ donation in 2018/19 – with many saying they did not know what their relative would have wanted.

John Forsythe, medical director for Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “In 2018/19, we saw more people across the UK go on to donate their organs than ever before.

“In 2019/20, we were on track to surpass the figures of the previous year, but sadly the impact of Covid-19 reduced the number of donations and transplants able to go ahead.

“With thanks to the remarkable efforts of organ donation and transplant teams across the country, as well as the incredible support of donor families, we have fortunately been able to keep transplants going for those in most urgent need throughout the pandemic.

“We are all now focusing our efforts on continuing our recovery but in order to do this, we need public support more than ever.

“We know that when families know their relative’s organ donation decision, they are more likely to give their support. Knowing what their relative wanted, can give families a lot of comfort and make what is a difficult time, that little bit easier.

“While most people agree that it is important to talk to their family about organ donation, it is less likely that they will have actually had this important conversation.

“Sadly, many organ donation opportunities are lost every year because families don’t know if their loved one wanted to be a donor or not. Please don’t wait. Speak to your family about organ donation today.”

– For more information or to register your organ donation decision visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

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