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Health: Organ Transplants

Volume 705: debated on Monday 17 November 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 20 September 2007, I announced that I had asked the Organ Donation Taskforce to look at the complex issue of an opt-out or presumed consent system of organ donation. The task force’s terms of reference were:

“To examine the potential impact on organ donation of introducing an ‘opt out’ or presumed consent system in the UK, having regard to the views of the public and stakeholders on the clinical, ethical, legal and societal issues, and publish its findings”.

The task force is today publishing its report, The Potential Impact of an Opt Out System in the UK. The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available for honourable members in the Vote Office.

I am grateful to the chair of the task force, Mrs Elisabeth Buggins, and all the members for their careful and thorough examination of this subject and for producing such an authoritative piece of work. The task force has presented a cogent and well balanced analysis of a substantial body of evidence drawn from a wide range of stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, organ recipients, donor families, representatives of faith and belief groups, and members of the public.

The task force has concluded that introducing an opt-out system in the UK at present, while having the potential to deliver benefits, would present significant challenges on a number of fronts, and may not be necessary to deliver the improvement in donation rates we all want. The task force has therefore recommended not changing to an opt-out system at this time, but monitoring progress of implementing the recommendations of the task force’s first report.

The task force has given a clear indication that donation rates can be optimised successfully without a change in the legal framework. I therefore accept its recommendation that we should aim to raise donation rates without the added complications associated with a change in legislation, only revisiting the question of a change to opt out if the implementation of those recommendations does not deliver the projected increase in donations.

However, I want to see more progress more quickly to ensure that UK patients have the best possible chance of getting the treatment they need. I have therefore set a further challenge as part of the implementation of the task force’s second report. I would like to see 20 million people registered on the organ donor register by 2010, working towards 25 million on the register by 2013.

I also want to see our donor rates match those in many parts of Europe and rise to 1,400 donors per year by March 2013, nearly twice current levels. On average each donor can help three people in need, so this could mean an extra 1,800 people get the chance of the transplant they so desperately need.

To support this, in addition to the extra £11 million made available this year to implement the task force’s first report, we have made £4.5 million extra funding available over the two years 2008-10 for a major multimedia campaign from March 2009 to make people aware of the importance of organ donation, with further funding agreed for future years.

However, it is not all about money or setting government targets. Achieving these ambitious aims will require not only the support of the Government and the NHS, but also widespread public support. We as a society need to change the way we view organ donation. Professionals can play their part by ensuring that all potential donors are identified and donation is discussed at the right time with families. Most importantly, we all need to talk about donation with our family and friends, make our wishes known and register on the organ donor register. We may then all give someone the opportunity to benefit from a transplant after our death.