Patients missing out on transplants as potential donors' wishes unknown
Patients in desperate need of a new organ missed out on 460 potential transplants last year because families, unsure of their relatives' wishes, declined to donate, new figures show.
Around 200 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list and last year 12 people died waiting for an organ.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said that across the UK, three families a week were saying no to organ donation because they did not know whether their relatives would have wanted to donate an organ or not.
It said that when families were left to make such a decision on their loved one's behalf, some decided it was safer to say no.
The organisation has encouraged people to talk to family members during Organ Donation Week, September 4-10. The reluctance to talk about the issue is contributing to a deadly shortage of organs, NHSBT said.
Last year, 457 people in the UK died while on the active transplant waiting list and a further 875 people were removed from the list, mainly due to ill health - many will have died shortly after being removed from that list.
On August 25, there were 6,414 people in need of a new organ on the transplant waiting list.
The Scottish government recently announced that it will be changing its rules. It will make Scotland the second devolved region, after Wales, to adopt an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, system of organ donation.
Northern Ireland has been debating the possibility of changing legislation to a 'soft opt-out' system. This would mean everyone would be presumed to have consented to organ donation unless they registered to opt out.
Despite initial support, a Bill was later withdrawn when some of its clauses were opposed by the health committee. With no Assembly, change is now unlikely.
The parents of a four-year-old who died while on the waiting list have urged people to discuss donation.
Aoife O'Sullivan, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, died in March 2016 while waiting for a heart transplant. The youngster was in need of a new heart after suffering heart failure from restrictive cardiomyopathy - a condition which made her heart muscle rigid. After she died, her parents chose to donate her kidneys.
Michelle O'Sullivan and Neil Forsyth have backed the NHSBT campaign to encourage people to talk about their wishes surrounding donation.
Ms O'Sullivan said: "Neil and I take comfort from that fact Aoife has given somebody more time with their loved ones. We feel very proud of Aoife.
"I would say to people 'put yourself in the shoes of someone waiting for a transplant'. If you are willing to accept an organ donation, it is only right that you should be willing to donate the special gift of life to another family."