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Move toward soft opt-out organ donation system hailed as ‘momentous’

Health minister Robin Swann is to hold a public consultation on the proposal in the autumn.

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Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann before a press conference at Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann before a press conference at Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann before a press conference at Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast.

Campaigners have welcomed a move towards a new organ donation system in Northern Ireland.

Health minister Robin Swann announced his intention to hold a consultation on the introduction of a soft opt-out model.

Mr Swann said changes were needed to increase the number of donor organs available in the region.

Under an opt out model, adults would be considered to be organ donors unless they proactively indicate they do not want to be.

The soft opt-out model gives the family of a deceased person a say on whether donation should proceed.

Introducing the system in Northern Ireland would bring the region into line with other part of the UK.

Mr Swann said: “Northern Ireland has an excellent record in organ donation and transplantation however more needs to be done to increase the number of organs available for those in need of a transplant.

“While approximately 47% of the Northern Ireland Population are currently on the organ donation register, there are still approximately 112 waiting on a transplant. We must do more to increase the number of donor organs available.

“With many more people willing to consider donating an organ than are actually registered as donors, I have long believed that an opt-out system would be hugely beneficial and ultimately would save lives here.

“It is therefore my intention to consult on policy proposals for the introduction of a soft opt-out system.

“This would bring us in line with the other countries in the UK.

“In the meantime, I encourage everyone to discuss their wishes about organ donation with their family and friends.”

Jo-Anne Dobson, Kidney Care UK’s Northern Ireland Ambassador, described the move as “momentous”.

“I thank Minister Swann for his support and for taking this long awaited step on progressing this important issue,” she said.

“Organ donation is an issue which has and will always remain close to my heart and I am delighted that we have a health minister in Northern Ireland who has taken it to his own.

“This move will increase the chances of receiving new life for people who are waiting on a transplant, both now and into the future.

“This is a good announcement and a good day for organ donation and transplantation in Northern Ireland.”

Fearghal McKinney, head of the British Health Foundation in Northern Ireland, also welcomed the announcement.

“It is a positive step that ultimately could help end the heartache for those who are waiting on the precious gift of a donated organ,” he said.

“A similar change in the law in Wales in 2015 has resulted in family consent rates increasing from less than 49% to 77%.

“We want to see the same impact for people in Northern Ireland.”

The consultation exercise is expected to be conducted in the autumn.

PA