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Increased public support and new law offer hope for patients, despite impact of Covid-19

Family consent rates rise at the height of the pandemic

The annual Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report shows deceased organ donor figures were on course to surpass the previous year’s total, but unfortunately the global COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and had a wide-reaching impact across the whole NHS and every aspect of UK society.

The high number of organ donors last year, on track to be another record, is testament to the strong support for organ donation in the UK and was possible thanks to more incredible families agreeing to support donation. The numbers of families giving their consent/authorisation for organ donation to go ahead across the UK has risen from 67% to 68% this year (1).

There was also a consistently high referral rate of potential donors by medical staff to organ donation teams (2) and more family approaches involving Specialist Nurses-Organ Donation (3) This allowed 3,760 patients to have the organ transplant they needed.

In March 2020 there was a sharp reduction in organ donation activity, which meant a 1% fall in the number of deceased donors over the financial year from 1,600 to 1,580. Sadly, the total number of patients, both adults and children, whose lives were potentially saved or improved by a deceased organ transplant also fell from 3,952 to 3,760.

The strong foundations built in organ donation and transplantation over the last decade ensured some donation and transplantation activity was able to continue even during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patient safety is paramount, and the most urgent transplants continued to be prioritised.

Even in the midst of the pandemic there were 91 deceased organ donors in the UK in March 2020. And impressively, during the health crisis the consent rate was even higher at 74.5% (March 2020).

Tragically, in 2019/20, 372 people died while waiting for their call and a further 746 were removed due to deteriorating health. Many of these would have died shortly afterwards. At the end of February, more than 6,000 people were still waiting for a transplant (4).

The recovery of donation and transplantation is now well under way and the majority of transplant units have now reopened. Activity levels are improving as NHSBT and everyone in the NHS works hard to enable as many families as possible to gain comfort through organ donation and save and improve as many lives as possible.

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Amazing organ donors and their families make life-saving transplants possible, by giving their support and saying ‘yes’ to organ donation.

“It’s wonderful to see that we were, once again, on track to surpass the number of organ donors in 2019/20 than the previous year before COVID-19 hit. This is testament to the selfless families who agreed to donate their loved one’s organs in the most tragic of circumstances.

“It is disappointing but inevitable that donation and transplantation has been impacted by the worldwide pandemic. What is incredible though is that throughout this crisis, we have continued to see such strong support for organ donation and the most urgent transplants have still gone ahead and saved the lives of desperately ill adults and children.

“We are, along with our fantastic NHS colleagues, focused on the continued recovery of this immensely important work, which brings comfort to grieving families and gives people another chance at life.

“As we learn to live with COVID-19 and boosted by the new law and growing public support, we hope more lives than ever before can be saved.”

England moved to an opt out system, bringing in Max and Keira’s law, on May 20, 2020 and it is hoped public support for organ donation will continue to improve.

It’s still your choice whether or not you want to donate your organs.

Please find out more, and register your decision, by visiting NHS Organ Donor Register and ensure you tell your family:


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