Organ donation ‘should be compulsory’

Organ donation must be made compulsory if the NHS is to meet demand for transplants, the chief medical officer has warned.

Sir Liam Donaldson has called on MPs to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation. He argues everyone should be considered for organ donation unless they explicitly register not to be.

This would invert the current system where potential donors choose to place themselves on the NHS register.

Presenting his annual report on the nation’s health, Sir Liam observed only 20 per cent of people are registered organ donors but 70 per cent would like to donate their organs after they die.

The current system has produced a severe shortage of organs with one person dying on the transplant list every day.

“There are simply not enough organs donated to meet the need for transplant,” Sir Liam warned.

He added: “Compounding this are issues surrounding consent, which often reduces this number further”.

During the year ending March 2007, a record 3,074 patients had received an organ transplant through the NHS, representing a ten per cent annual rise.

But 7,234 patients were still awaiting a transplant, itself a yearly rise of eight per cent.

Sir Liam: “To meet the current demand for organs, the number of people on the NHS donor register would need to approximately treble.

“I believe we can only do this though changing the legislation to an opt-out system with proper regulation and safeguards.”

The Department of Health (DoH) said it recognised the demand for organs far outstrips supply, but any change to legislation would require extensive consultation.

A DoH spokesperson said: “Currently the underlying principle of the Human Tissue Act 2004 is that consent must be obtained to use human organs and tissue for transplantation, whether from the living or after death.

“Ministers have established an Organ Donation Taskforce to look at the barriers to donation and we are awaiting their report. Recommendations will be made to Ministers later this year on how donation rates could be improved.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it “fully supports” the principle of an opt-out donor list.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA medical ethics committee said: “We must increase the number of donors available and the BMA believes that a system of presumed consent with safeguards will help to achieve this.”

He also called for a public information campaign to make people better aware of organ donation and the choices they can make.

Reporting on the nation’s health, Sir Liam also spoke of the need to improve hygiene in hospitals, cut infant mortality during labour and increase the number of women in senior medical positions.