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Blood, Organ and Bone Marrow Donation (Education)

Volume 559: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a duty on schools and colleges in England with pupils aged 16 years and over to enable pupils to gain greater understanding of the processes and benefits of blood, organ and bone marrow donation; and for connected purposes.

The Bill aims to address the stubborn shortfall in blood, organ and bone marrow donors, which is a particular concern among ethnic minorities. I commend the work of NHS Blood and Transplant, the charity Anthony Nolan and all those involved in the National Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Transplant Alliance in addressing that deceptively difficult task.

Every 20 minutes in the UK, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer such as leukaemia. It could happen to any of us or to any or our family members, young or old. As I speak, 1,600 people need a bone marrow transplant from a suitable matching donor to treat blood cancer or a blood disease. A matching sibling donor does not always exist and for 70% of patients the kindness of a stranger on a register of volunteer donors is the last hope of life. For half those in need, that match will not be found. Although bone marrow donation provides no guarantees, the five-year survival rate following a bone marrow transplant stands at 40%.

The problem is more acute for ethnic minorities. White northern Europeans have a 90% chance of finding a bone marrow donor, but that falls to just 40% for people from BAME backgrounds. A person’s bone marrow tissue type is based on 10 genetic markers, which must closely match those of their donor. Among ethnic minority populations the range of these markers is great, resulting in a greater range of tissue types and a reduced chance of a successful patient and donor match.

There are volunteer programmes to encourage donors, but a more comprehensive solution is needed. Meeting the donor shortfall can be accelerated by educating young people in how they could save a life, a true example of how our education and health services can join up in a very simple way to solve a national problem. That was the belief of Adrian Sudbury after whom the call for this law, Adrian’s law, is named. Adrian was a 25-year-old journalist when he was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2006. As he learned about his treatment, he discovered that young people were not regularly informed about becoming donors and realised that many more people like him could be helped if donation was far better understood.

Adrian campaigned alongside friends and family for an education project to equip 16 to 18 year olds with the facts about bone marrow, blood and organ donation and to bust the myths around those donation processes. That campaign became “Register and Be a Lifesaver”, the education project managed by Anthony Nolan and NHS Blood and Transplant that started shortly after Adrian’s death in 2008. The programme has been run with the support and drive of Keith and Kay Sudbury, Adrian’s parents, with Keith’s background as a head teacher being invaluable. I pay tribute to Adrian’s parents and his sister Carrie for their work.

In a short, flexibly delivered training session that needs to last only 30 to 40 minutes, pupils learn that 7,000 units of blood are needed every day and that each one can help three people. They learn that 90% of people think organ donation is a good idea, but just 31% are on the organ donor register. They also learn that bone marrow donation is much like giving blood, for the most part. Once given the absolute facts, young people can decide for themselves their potential to help someone in need, and decide they do. In October 2012 Anthony Nolan changed the joining policy governing its bone marrow donor register to allow young people from the age of 16 to sign up. In the five months since that change, over 1,800 young people decided to join the bone marrow donor register after learning the facts. Indeed, since the whole project began in 2009, more than 1,400 young people have joined the organ donor register and 5,000 have signed up to donate blood.

But this is not just a numbers game. Reaching more young people, and quickly, will help us find matching donors and reduce the number of people who die while waiting for that lifesaving match. There is also the question of donor availability. A clinician prefers a younger bone marrow donor for their patient, as a younger donor is less likely to have any health conditions that prevent them from donating or that delay donation.

The need for donors is clear. The solution is also clear. Anthony Nolan has asked young people, who make the best donors, to consider the power that they have to save a life, and they have answered that call. Education on citizenship is heralded as a means to embed our responsibility to our communities, creating a generation committed to volunteering, so why not, by the same measure, consider education on donation as a means to ensure a healthy future for those who need blood transfusions and organ or bone marrow transplants? We have a responsibility to uphold access to the best possible care and speedy treatment at a time of need. Adrian believed that young people would take on their responsibility when informed of the opportunity to help, and early Register and Be a Lifesaver results from the 424 schools so far reached show that he was correct.

In conclusion, I thank all the hon. Members who have shown such support for this Bill, in addition to all its sponsors. I would like to mention in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), my hon. Friends the Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock).

I call on the Government to take action to bring in this duty for schools and colleges, and to take the simple step of making education on donation available to everyone over 16 in schools and colleges—a measure that would make a radical difference to the health care of so many in Britain and abroad.

Question put and agreed to.


That Seema Malhotra, Angela Smith, Glyn Davies, Sir Peter Bottomley, Mr Dennis Skinner, Mr David Lammy, Lyn Brown, Luciana Berger, Sir Bob Russell, Mark Tami, Jim Shannon and Mr Virendra Sharma present the Bill.

Seema Malhotra accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 April 2013 and to be printed (Bill 145).