Northern Ireland ‘being left behind’ in new organ donation system
Northern Ireland will soon be the only part of the UK without an opt-out organ donation system, the Ulster Unionists have warned.
UUP health spokesman Roy Beggs MLA yesterday welcomed the announcement from the Government that a new system for organ donation will be in place across England by 2020.
The plan shifts the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation, with an opt-out for those who do not wish to take part, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
The changes will be known as Max’s Law after Max Johnson, a 10-year-old boy whose life was saved by a heart transplant.
But Mr Beggs warned that unless it is also extended here, Northern Ireland will soon be the only part of the UK without an opt-out system.
“Organ donation is one of the most selfless acts of kindness one person can do for another,” he said.
“Whilst it continues to have strong public support, unfortunately there remains a shortfall between the number of donors and the actual number of organs needed each year.
“Tragically, that means people are continuing to pass away each and every year in Northern Ireland whilst waiting for a transplant.
“The decision by the UK Government to introduce an opt-out system in England is therefore very welcome and I am sure it will save hundreds of lives every year. It follows similar decisions already taken in Scotland and Wales.”
Currently, would-be donors must indicate their intentions on the NHS Organ Donor Register, or grieving families must make the decision if a patient’s wish to donate is unknown.
While research shows that 82% of people in England support organ donation, only 37% have indicated so on the register.
And less than half of families give consent for their loved one’s organs to be donated.
The proposed law will aim to close this gap, and is expected to be rolled out by the Government in spring 2020. But Mr Beggs added: “Sadly, however, in the ongoing absence of an Executive at Stormont, and after a previous attempt to introduce an opt-out system here in 2016 was scuppered by the DUP and Sinn Fein for primarily political reasons, Northern Ireland will soon have the most outdated and inadequate organ donation system of any part of the UK.
“I would urge the Secretary of State therefore to intervene to ensure that this is not yet another example of the health and well-being of the people of Northern Ireland being impeded by the current political impasse.
“If she can introduce legislation to pass budgets and set rates, then she can introduce a new measure which we know would immediately begin to save lives.”
Some 411 people in the UK died while on the waiting list for transplants in 2017.
Jackie Doyle-Price, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities, said: “We believe that by making these changes, we can save as many as 700 more lives every year. But organ donation remains a gift.
“I want to encourage people who wish to give life in the event of their death to take the time to record their wishes and discuss it with their family.”