Update on organ donation

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

Health Minister Edwin Poots has updated the Assembly on the next steps for organ donation policy in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the Assembly, the Minister said: “In April last year I announced the key measures to be taken forward by my Department in developing its organ donation policy. In July 2013 I launched the NHS Blood and Transplant’s (NHSBT) new UK-wide organ donation and transplantation strategy, ‘Taking Organ Donation to 2020 – A UK Strategy’.

“This strategy was developed by NHSBT in collaboration with all UK Health Departments and all those involved in organ donation and transplantation, including professional bodies, patient groups, transplant surgeons and the wider health service. The overall aim is to match world-class performance in organ donation and transplantation.

“The UK strategy does not propose soft opt-out legislation should be introduced as a UK-wide policy. Instead the strategy proposes that three groups (society and individuals, NHS hospitals and staff, NHSBT and Commissioners) need to act for the strategy to be successful and achieve the desired outcomes. Action from Government, professional bodies and the voluntary sector in support will be essential too.

The Minister continued: “In addition to the actions set out in this strategy, at my request the Public Health Agency (PHA) has completed a major survey to test local public opinion on organ donation. The results of the work highlighted some surprising facts, such as: 84 per cent of respondents supported the idea of organ donation; More than a third (36 per cent) of respondents were not aware of the Organ Donor Register (ODR); 78 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to accept an organ if they needed one; 78 per cent of respondents agreed that it is important to discuss your donation wishes with your family and/or friends, however, only 38 per cent had done so.

“The findings of that survey have informed a public information campaign which the PHA will launch on 12 February aimed at encouraging people to let their family know if they wish to donate their organs at the end of life. The aim is to increase public awareness of organ donation and the number of donors.

“Following this campaign the PHA will conduct a second public attitudes survey into organ donation later this year. When the results of that survey are known I will be better placed to reach a decision on what further action might be required, including whether we need to move forward with statutory measures, in relation to organ donation policy.”

The Minister concluded: “As I have already publicly stated, making a decision on the future policy of organ donation is not a decision to be taken lightly. Making such an important decision warrants taking sufficient time to assess the available evidence and reach a final decision on the long-term future of this service.

“Part of this evidence will be to see how the public respond to the information campaign that is about to be launched. I will also follow closely the views of the professionals, and would be cautious about legislative change without clear clinical support from those with the expertise of working day in, day out in this field.

“I firmly believe that increased public awareness, education on the key issues and the further development of transplantation services through UK-wide action is the right way forward for organ donation in Northern Ireland at this time. I will be happy to continue these discussions, with all who have an interest in this important issue, later this year after I have had an opportunity to consider the further survey of public opinion following the PHA’s public awareness campaign.”