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Transplant opt-out system: 'It appears Northern Ireland may be left behind as the odd one out'

In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, gives his views on the opt-out system

As Sunday morning dawned in the Dobson household all conversation turned to organ donation...and on this occasion a new level of excitement was in the air.

We were discussing news coming through from the Department of Health in London that the Government had given a further commitment on the opt-out system coming into law by 2020. Sadly, behind the headlines, once again Northern Ireland is being left behind, but more on that later.

Last week mum was at Belfast City Airport, but unusually for her she wasn't taking a flight. She was seeing off eight local children who were flying to Birmingham to take part in the British Transplant Games.

Ben, Cayden, Corey, David, Faith, Joshua, Max and Raymond make up the Belfast Children's transplant team and, in the words of the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, didn't they do well!

Our eight little heroes, all of whom have had a kidney transplant, arrived home on Monday with an impressive medal haul including one gold, four silver and one bronze.

Mum's charity Kidney Care UK was delighted to help support the team and what an important symbol of hope their participation is for all transplant patients. It's also an amazing chance to promote organ donation and to honour and celebrate donors, families and the gift of life.

A special shout-out to their team leader and my former renal nurse Hazel Gibson, whose support for the children and their families is crucial to the team's continued success.

Now back to what had cheered us all up on Sunday morning - the news that the Department of Health will implement a new opt-out system for organ donation in England by 2020. Sadly though, this means that while Wales has made the switch already and the Scottish government are on track, Northern Ireland could once again be the odd one out.

I've previously highlighted important advances in the movement to deliver an opt-out system of organ donation across the country and have noted that, while this issue unites opinion at Westminster, disappointingly that political consensus remains as elusive as a John Lewis store in Northern Ireland.

Mum pioneered Northern Ireland's first Opt-Out Bill back in 2015 and has met with the Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price, who so expertly announced the moves taking place in England on Sunday. She and her team have been working hard to compile the responses to the English consultation aimed at advancing moves which have the potential to make a massive difference to all transplant patients, now and in the future.

However, all this is confined to England. Back home we are waiting on the Department of Health publishing the responses to their consultation on the way forward for organ donation which came about as the result of clauses in mum's Private Member's Bill.

While I acknowledge there's a debate to be had around the opt-out system, that very debate unites the transplant family as any move which increases public awareness around what it means to be given a new life through a transplant is a positive thing. What would not be a positive thing, however, is for Northern Ireland to be left behind as the only region of the UK not to be moving ahead with new life-saving organ donation legislation.

I remain ever hopeful that the situation will in some way change for the better in Northern Ireland in many respects, not solely around organ donation.

Belfast Telegraph

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