Encouraging response to organ donation consultation

Date published: 05 March 2021

Health Minister Robin Swann has described the response to the recent consultation on statutory opt-out for organ donation as tremendously encouraging.

Almost 2,000 written responses were received to the consultation and eight virtual engagement events were held during the 10 week consultation which ran from December to February.

The purpose of the consultation was to seek the public’s views on how to introduce a soft opt-out organ donation system for Northern Ireland. This would require new legislation to change the current system here, from opt-in to opt-out, with the aim of making more life-saving organs available for transplantation.

Minister Swann said: “There has been a tremendous response to the consultation process and I would like to thank each and every organisation and individual who have taken the time to let us know how they feel about this vitally important issue.

“Their views will help inform the proposed change to legislation which I believe will be more truly representative of our population’s altruism and willingness to donate their organs and tissues after death.

“The views expressed in the consultation will inform the development of a draft Bill for consideration by the Northern Ireland Assembly, in order to enshrine the proposed changes in law. Once we have completed our consultation analysis in the weeks ahead, the first step will be to secure the approval of the Executive to introduce the draft Bill. Subject to the views of the Assembly and Health Committee this process should take us up to summer 2022, however I want to join those who have long campaigned for these changes in welcoming the completion of this important first step of the journey.”

One donor has the potential to save up to 9 lives, and in 2019/20 in Northern Ireland there were 51 deceased donors and 89 life-saving and life transforming transplants from deceased donors for Northern Ireland residents.  However there are still 115 people in Northern Ireland on the waiting list and last year 11 people in Northern Ireland died while awaiting an organ transplant.

Currently in Northern Ireland donation will only ever proceed if a person had given their express consent for organ donation, usually by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register and/or speaking to their family. In the absence of this, the family is asked to make a decision on behalf of the patient.

Under the proposed opt-out legislation, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out. The family would continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs. This will not change.

Over 90% of the population in Northern Ireland supports organ donation but only 48% have recorded this decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Notes to editors: 

1. Since the introduction of the opt-out system in Wales in 2015 and the corresponding information campaigns, there has been an increase in both consent rate and donation rate. The consent rate increased from 58% in 2015 to 70.7% in 2020, although the impact was not immediate and took several years to take effect.  In England, a new opt-out system came into effect from 20 May 2020. Scotland’s opt-out system will come into effect from 26 March 2021. The Irish Government has previously indicated an intention to consider the introduction of a soft opt-out system. 3

2. Organ donation:

It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Call 0300 123 23 23 or visit the Organ Donation website.

Families are always involved in organ donation discussions. You can make things easier for your family by telling them you want to donate

Every day across the UK someone dies waiting for an organ transplant

Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, age and medical conditions are not necessarily a barrier to donation

One donor can save or transform up to nine lives through organ donation and save and transform even more by donating tissue

The soft opt-out system will mean:

  • If you want to be a donor, you can register to be a donor (opt in) on the NHS Organ Donor Register and inform those close to you of this decision.
  • If you don’t record a decision to be a donor or let those close to you know your donation decision, you will be considered as having no objection to becoming a donor. This is called deemed consent.
  • If you do not want to be a donor, you can register not to be a donor (opt out) on the NHS Organ Donor Register
  • You can also nominate a representative to make the decision for you after your death.

3. More information on organ donation can be found on the Organ Donation website.

4. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk.

5. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.

6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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