The political conference season is over and MPs have returned to Parliament. One of the talking points from The Conservative Party’s conference was the Prime Minister’s announcement that England would begin the process of changing the organ donation policy, switching from an opt-in to an opt-out system. What will this mean for NHS patients? And what form will the new system take considering the options?

organ donationIs There Support for This Policy?

Announced at The Conservative Party conference this autumn, health chiefs immediately began the process of a consultation ahead of a potential switch. Under the current system in England, those who wish to donate organs after their death must register their interest through the NHS organ donation system.

The government and health chiefs have long called for a switch to a system of presumed consent where those who do not want their organs donated must instead register their refusal of consent. There is strong overall support for this policy, so much so that it’s likely to receive cross-party backing. With 82% of public opinion in favour, government will, and professional support, it’s a case of “when” and not “if”.

Why This Change is Necessary

Statistics reveal that the NHS presently has over 6,500 people on a register to receive a transplant. Three people die every day waiting for a vital life-saving transplant that never arrives in time. Simply, there is a critical shortage of donors. The shift is designed to make a much larger number of donations available from those who die with healthy organs not being donated. NHS chiefs welcomed this part of the Prime Minister’s speech, particularly the Organ and Blood Donation Service who have called for a change for years.

Scottish and Welshorgan donation Organ Donation Trials

At present, it is still the case that England has an opt-in system. It’s still the case in Scotland too, but an announcement in June means that country will soon shift to an opt-in system likely different from Wales, which has been trialling an opt-out system for some two years.

In Wales, there is an opt-out system with a presumption of consent for the deceased patient unless then next of kin objects to the donation. In which case, their rejection overrides this presumption of consent (known as a “soft opt-out”).

Scotland’s system is likely to be a conventional opt-out although they are also considering the “soft opt-out” method used in Wales. If the patient does not opt-out in life, this is presumed consent for organ donation and no amount of family objection can overrule this.

Northern Ireland still has the opt-in system with no immediate plans to switch to opt-out. If the scheme changes in England, the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly may consider it, but nothing has yet been announced. As recently as this summer, Northern Ireland rejected the change – but so did England and the change is now likely to go ahead.

Changing Cultural Attitudes

The trend of donation is definitely changing. Thanks to greater awareness, 20% more people are available for organ donation than 5 years ago. A sustained and long-term campaign by NHS chiefs in all four countries of the United Kingdom is making people think again about the importance of organ donation. Children’s books and TV shows have also been made about it, extolling the virtues and benefits, and even celebrities and sports stars are behind the campaign.

With the release of the recent poll suggesting over 80% of people now support organ donation, a change is likely across the UK sooner rather than later.