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Organ donation change gathers support

By Michael McHugh

Published 04/09/2015

Campaign: Jo-Anne Dobson
Campaign: Jo-Anne Dobson

The proportion of people who want to make organ donation easier has increased to 61% in Northern Ireland.

Every year around 15 people die waiting for a transplant.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton pledged to "carefully consider" the future of the system of organ donation.

Wales is to trial "soft opt-outs" later this year, where it is presumed that a person has consented to donation unless they have registered their objection.

But a UUP MLA, who is bringing a Private Member's Bill about soft opt-outs here, warned that Northern Ireland was being left behind.

Mr Hamilton said any change in the legislation must be based on an examination of the evidence.

"I therefore want to carefully watch how the new 'soft' opt-out system being introduced in Wales from this December affects their organ donation consent rates from next year onwards.

"Wales has a similar NHS system to Northern Ireland and I expect that we will be able to learn from their experience and use it to carefully consider the future for organ donation in Northern Ireland along with the views of local transplant clinicians and other stakeholders."

While there has been a slight increase (5%) in numbers in favour of presumed consent since 2013, a significant number of others remained unsure or opposed the change.

Obtaining consent for organ donation from family or friends is still one of the biggest challenges in increasing the number of organs available for transplant, the Public Health Agency's evaluation showed.

Northern Ireland has among the best live donor rates in Europe. Becoming a donor can save the lives of up to seven people.

Ulster Unionist Party health spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson, whose son received a life-saving kidney transplant, said her Private Member's Bill to introduce a soft opt-out system in Northern Ireland would be ready for introduction to the Assembly this month.

Mrs Dobson said: "Organ donation is one of the most selfless acts of kindnesses one person can do for another. We have a strong local record on organ donation but it is so sad that, as Wales has taken the next brave step by moving to a soft opt-out system, Northern Ireland is now falling behind.

"Demand for transplants is still outstripping supply and as a result every year local people tragically pass away whilst waiting for an organ. Indeed last year statistics from NHS Blood and Transplant show that 17 local people died while waiting on a suitable organ - change is needed to save local lives and a soft opt-out system will achieve this.

"Unfortunately I believe there remains a reluctance at the top of the Health Department here. Indeed, even the latest comments from the minister contain a blatantly negative undertone - a wait and see approach won't save lives.

"The minister and his party must not continue to disregard or misrepresent public opinion on organ donation."

Ms Dobson's son Mark was five weeks old when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. When he turned 13 his kidneys started to shut down.

In April 2008 he was placed on the transplant list and received a kidney transplant the following year.

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