Patients in desperate need of a new organ missed out on 460 potential transplants last year because families, unsure of their relatives’ wishes, declined to donate, new figures show
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said that across the UK, three families a week were saying no to organ donation because they did not know whether their relatives would have wanted to donate an organ or not.
It said that when families are left to make such a decision on their loved one’s behalf, some decide it is safer to say no.
The organisation has encouraged people to talk to family members during Organ Donation Week, September 4-10.
The reluctance to talk about the issue is contributing to a deadly shortage of organs, NHSBT said.
Last year, 457 people died while on the active transplant waiting list and a further 875 people were removed from the list, mainly due to ill health – many will have died shortly after being removed from that list.
On August 25 there were 6,414 people in need of a new organ on the transplant waiting list.
The parents of a four-year-old who died on the waiting list have urged people to discuss the topic.
Aoife O’Sullivan from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex died in March 2016 while waiting for a heart transplant.
The youngster was in need of a new heart after suffering heart failure from restrictive cardiomyopathy – a condition which made her heart muscle rigid.
After she died, her parents chose to donate her kidneys.
Michelle O’Sullivan and Neil Forsyth, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, have backed the NHSBT campaign to encourage people to talk about their wishes surrounding donation.
Ms O’Sullivan said: “Neil and I take comfort from that fact Aoife has given somebody more time with their loved ones. We feel very proud of Aoife.
“I would say to people ‘put yourself in the shoes of someone waiting for a transplant’.
“If you are willing to accept an organ donation, it is only right that you should be willing to donate the special gift of life to another family.”
Anthony Clarkson, assistant director of organ donation for NHSBT, said: “It’s a tragedy, hundreds of people are dying unnecessarily every year waiting for transplants.
“We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved.
“This Organ Donation Week tell your family you want to save lives. A few words now can make an extraordinary difference. It will also make things much easier for your family to make the right decision.
“If you want to save lives, don’t leave it too late to talk to your family. If you want to be a donor, your family’s support is still needed for donation to go ahead, even if you are on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
“And if you are unsure about donation, please ask yourselves as a family, what would you do if one of you needed a transplant? Would you accept a lifesaving organ? If you’d take an organ, shouldn’t you be prepared to donate?”
For more information visit: Organ Donation Week.
There are more than half a million people in the UK with debilitating heart failure and in need of a transplant, according to the British Heart Foundation.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There are over 250 people on the waiting list, but only 200 heart transplants took place last year in the UK.
“For these people, it’s an agonising wait for a new heart that could mean the difference between life and death.
“It takes two minutes to sign up to the Organ Donor Register, and even less time to have a conversation with your loved one about your wishes.
“This might seem like a difficult conversation, but it could save the lives of people in desperate need of a heart transplant, and ensure your wishes are respected after death.”