The number of families agreeing to organ donations has dipped for the first time in eight years, new figures show.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) has urged people to register their opinions on organ donation and discuss their views with loved ones after the number of families agreeing to donation fell from 69% in 2020/21 to 66% last year.
Officials said hundreds of lives could be saved if everyone who supports donation “talked about it and agreed to donate”.
The proportion of families consenting to donation has been increasing steadily since 2014/15, when consent rates were just 58%.
Hundreds of people are still dying unnecessarily every year waiting for transplants. We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be savedAnthony Clarkson, NHS Blood and Transplant
But last year saw the first dip in eight years as 605 families declined to support organ donation.
With each donor donating an average of three organs, it is estimated that this could equate up to 1,815 missed opportunities for transplant.
The law around organ donation has changed to an ‘opt out’ system across England, Scotland and Wales but despite this, family members will still always be consulted before organ donation goes ahead.
Reasons given for declining donation in 2021/22 included not knowing what their loved one would have wanted, split opinion in the family, or not believing in donation.
The figures also show that 92 families overruled their loved one’s decision to be a donor.
It comes as new figures showed that more than a 1,000 people in need of an organ transplant died in 2021/22.
Last year, 429 patients died waiting for their transplant, while a further 644 were removed from the transplant list and many of these patients would have died shortly afterwards, according to NHSBT’s annual organ donation activity report.
Organ transplant services were severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As services started to return to more normal levels, there was a 27% increase in the total number of organ transplants last year. Some 4,324 transplants were performed in 2021/22, compared with 3,398 in 2020/21.
Transplant teams also saw a boost in the number of living donors, such as where a person donates a kidney, with 909 living donors last year.
Some 6,269 patients were waiting for a transplant at the end of March 2022, with a further 3,990 temporarily suspended from transplant lists. People may have been suspended from the list for a number of reasons, including illness or holidays.
Anthony Clarkson, director of organ donation and transplantation at NHSBT, said: “Organ donation and transplantation is a fundamental part of the NHS work to save lives.
“This is shown by the increase in the number of patients last year receiving transplants and the number of those who are continually registering their decision to be an organ donor.
“Sadly though, hundreds of people are still dying unnecessarily every year waiting for transplants.
“We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved.
“We need families to support their loved one’s decision and agree to donation when approached if they know that’s what they wanted. Last year, 3% fewer families agreed to do that when they were asked than the year before, which may be due to a range of factors including the challenges of the pandemic.
“Whatever the reason, we need to encourage more people to register their decision and discuss it with their families as organ donation really does save lives.”
Register at www.organdonation.nhs.uk, call 0300 123 23 23, or use the NHS app.