Call for Yorkshire donors after first drop in UK organ donation in 11 years

Catherine Gregson, from Bramley, holds a picture of her late daughter Emma Witty, whose organs have changed the lives of 10 people. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Catherine Gregson, from Bramley, holds a picture of her late daughter Emma Witty, whose organs have changed the lives of 10 people. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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The number of people who have donated organs in the UK has fallen for the first time in more than a decade.

The shock figures released today by NHS Blood and Transplant have prompted a call for more donors after they revealed a five per cent drop in organ donation in the last year compared to 2013/14.

Statistics from the Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report 2014/15 show there were 4,431 transplants compared with 4,655 in the year previous – meaning 224 fewer people received an organ transplant.

It is thought the drop is linked to fewer people dying in circumstances where they could donate and no increase in the rate of people consenting to their organs being used after death by signing to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

In Yorkshire there were 19.7 donors per million of the population last year, which is below the national average, prompting further calls for families to discuss death and wishes for organ donation.

Gordon Crowe, team manager at the Yorkshire Organ Donation Services Team, said: “The transplant waiting list, although it has decreased over the years, still has 7,000 people waiting for a lifesaving transplant. It’s still imperative that people sign up because those patients are still in need of a transplant. It’s a simple fact that organ donation saves lives.”

He added that nationally 2013/14 was “almost an outstanding” year for organ donation, which explains the year-on-year drop, while regionally there was a marginal rise in the number of deceased donors last year.

The Yorkshire Post is currently backing the Be A Hero campaign led by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which is encouraging people in the county to sign the organ donor register.

It was sparked after it emerged that just 114 people in Yorkshire donated organs last year as around 800 people in the region await lifesaving transplants. Three people a day die waiting for a transplant nationally.

Catherine Gregson, from Bramley, Leeds, is supporting the campaign after her 19-year-old daughter Emma Witty donated her organs two years ago.

The aspiring photographer’s organs saved the lives of six people and rescued the sight of four others following her tragic death as a result of a bleed on the brain.

Ms Gregson, 51, said: “I don’t understand the drop in donations to be honest – if you can help anybody out you should.

“The main point for me was if Emma ever needed an organ I would have done anything. People are dying needlessly and there’s something we can all do about it – sign the register.”

Gill Barker

From reaching the summit of Mount Everest to cycling thousands of miles across America, there’s no end to the lengths people will go to for a cause close to their heart. Breaking boundaries and taking on gruelling endeavours can mean the person taking part enjoys the experience of a lifetime while the charity benefits from generous sponsorship. But taking time off work and organising an extreme, and often costly, adventure just isn’t possible for everyone. That’s why Gill Barker, from Wakefield, has created her own twist on the trend to find the toughest, most epic charity challenge. Gill is set to turn 35 in 2020 – and reaching this milestone has inspired her to have a good think about what she’d like to achieve, both physically and mentally, and write a bucket list to help reach those goals. Gill will complete 35 challenges before her 35th birthday on Saturday March 14. Some are small, some are huge, but all of them will push her beyond her comfort zone. “Turning 33 felt like a big thing for me,” explains Gill, who works in marketing at Leeds Trinity University. “I started to think about the life decisions I’d made. I looked back and while I’d had fun, I regretted all those weekends where I could have been having more fulfilling experiences and creating memories. “I have a full-time job so I couldn’t do a massive overseas challenge, but I realised I could break it down into little bits and still raise as much money as possible for charity.” Gill has already ticked 11 challenges off her list. She’s faced her fear of heights at the outdoor adventure centre Go Ape, trained with the Leeds Rhinos, cycled 128 miles from coast to coast and climbed Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Other challenges have involved changing her diet to ensure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs, and going to the gym more regularly on her own – something that would previously have caused Gill a considerable amount of anxiety. During the festive season, Gill kept active by completing a ‘12 days of Christmas’ workout challenge. Gill is now taking part in RED January, a campaign run in partnership with Mind that encourages participants to beat the winter blues by being active every day throughout the month. Then, later this month she’ll be taking to the slopes at Xscape Yorkshire to try her hand at skiing for the first time. Gill’s biggest test of her ‘35 before 35’ mission so far will be taking part in a 24-hour run in March. The run will be completed on a 3.71-mile loop so not only will it be physically demanding, it will also play on her mental toughness. She will also be finishing the year in style by taking part in the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii in December. There are three conditions that all of Gill’s challenges must meet – they must be physical or stretch her mentally, they all need to be self-funded and they can’t affect her job. Driving Gill’s ambition is a passion to help two local charities that have personal meaning to her – Yorkshire Cancer Research and Leeds Mind. She’s already raised more than £500 for the two causes. “Like many families across the UK, my own family has a history of cancer,” explains Gill. “But people close to me have recently been affected by cancer, too. They’ve all been so strong and inspirational. I wanted to do something that would support them. “I chose to raise money for Yorkshire Cancer Research after reading that people living here are more likely to get cancer, and more likely to die from it, than people living in other areas of the country. The statistics really shocked me.” Gill chose Leeds Mind following her own struggles with mental health. Her ‘35 before 35’ challenge has helped her overcome a period of depression. “It’s given me something to focus on,” Gill says. “Many people are affected by depression, even those who continue to work and function in everyday life. It’s very easy to fall into that slump and stop doing the things you used to enjoy. “I’m feeling much fitter and healthier, but I’m also happier and more confident now that I have a new focus. “If I can encourage one person who may be going through a difficult period to be brave and do something they’ve never done before, face a fear or take on a new challenge in order to gain a new focus, then that would be brilliant. If I can do it, anyone can.” You can find out more about Gill Barker’s challenges and sponsor her by visiting www.35before35.co.uk. You can also follow her progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She is also looking for suggestions for challenges to complete the 35 as she is still a few short on her list. For further information on Yorkshire Cancer Research, visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.u

NHS Blood and Transplant’s report warned that the consent rate for organ donation remains “stubbornly” below 60 per cent, and unless there is a revolution in attitudes people will continue to die waiting for transplants.

Director of organ donation and transplantation at the organisation, Sally Johnson, said: “We understand that families are expected to consider donation in their darkest hour so we would remind everyone to tell those closest to you now if you want to donate your organs – and then record that decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register. Should the time come, your family will know you want to donate your organs to help to save others.”

Click here to sign the register through Be A Hero.

WE’RE URGING Yorkshire residents to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register and become a hero.

To raise the profile of Be A Hero we’re also urging communities to support the campaign through anything from putting up a Be A Hero poster to hosting a superhero day. You can even download a #BeAHero mask from the campaign website – leedsth.nhs.uk/be-a-hero – and tweet your superhero selfies to @YorkshirePost and @LTHTrust using the hashtag #BeAHero.

Supporters can send messages of support to facebook.com/yorkshirepost.newspaper or send their tales of organ donation via email to jonathan.brown@ypn.co.uk.