Doctors are to urge the Government to save lives by introducing an “opt out” system of organ donation in Britain.
The British Medical Association says the UK should follow in the footsteps of Wales where people automatically become donors after their death unless they object beforehand – a move which has saved dozens of lives since it was introduced six months ago.
Currently three people on the waiting list die every day in the UK.
A Yorkshire, a campaign has been underway to increase the number of families consenting to organ donation as in 2014 just 29 families from Leeds consented to their loved ones becoming donors, while around 800 people in the county awaited crucial transplants.
Delegates at the BMA’s annual meeting in Belfast voted in favour of the change to an “opt out” system and will actively lobby ministers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The professional body has advocated the move for some time, but it is the first time it has voted to actively lobby Governments.
Dr John Chisholm, chair of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, said: “Organ transplantation is an area that has seen amazing medical achievements but has not yet reached its full life-saving and life-transforming potential, so I’m pleased to see this motion pass.
“The BMA has long believed that an opt-out system, as part of an overall package of measures to increase donation, would increase rates even further and save more lives. Indeed, the BMA has been calling for this change throughout the UK since 1999 and will continue to do so.
“As a doctor, it is difficult to see your patients dying and suffering when their lives could be saved or dramatically improved by a transplant.
“It is even more difficult when we know that lives are being lost unnecessarily because of poor organisation, lack of funding or because people who are willing to donate organs after their death simply never get around to making their views known, resulting in relatives making a decision without knowing whether the individual was willing to donate.
“Under an opt-out system there would be a presumption in favour of consent for organ donation unless a person had registered an objection in advance. If an objection had not been registered, family members would still be given the opportunity to confirm whether the individual had any unregistered objection, as an extra safeguard, before any procedures went ahead.”
At the moment there are 6,485 patients on the active UK waiting list for an organ transplant, 156 of whom are children.
The Yorkshire Post Newspapers-backed Be A Hero campaign saw 42,000 people in Yorkshire sign the NHS Organ Donor Register during its first five months last year.
A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant said: “We welcome activity that encourages people to discuss organ donation and to donate their organs for transplant. Our role is to work within whatever legislative frameworks are in place across the UK.
“Unfortunately there is a shortage of people willing to donate their organs and on average across the UK three people die every day in need of a transplant. To save the lives of more people who need a transplant it is vital people discuss organ donation with their families and register their decision to donate on the NHS Organ Donor Register.”
To sign the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit leedsth.nhs.uk/be-a-hero.