IF you have never got around to joining the Organ Donor Register, do it now and help stop three people a day dying as they wait for a transplant, say organ donor specialists.
While 90% of Britons are in favour of organ donation, only 29% of them are actually on the register, according to a recent survey from UK Transplant, meaning a huge shortage of donor organs.
There are currently around 8,000 people in need of a transplant, yet last year only 1,000 people donated organs after death, allowing 2,700 organ transplants to take place.
Officials believe the massive disparity between people’s support for organ donation and them actually joining the register is largely due to them simply never finding the opportunity to sign up.
The Government has tried to address this life-threatening procrastination this month, by forcing all driving licence applicants who apply through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website to state whether they want to donate their organs in the event of their death.
The organ donation question on the DVLA form was previously non-compulsory, although it still prompted many registrations: of the one million new organ donor registrations every year, half came through the DVLA.
It’s hoped that making the question compulsory will double the percentage of people choosing to join the organ donation register when applying for a driving license.
Transplant surgeon Prof Peter Friend, director of the Oxford Transplant Centre, thinks it’s a great idea.
He said: “This brings it to people’s attention and I think that’s all we need.
“It’s clear that the majority of the population is in favour of organ donation and transplantation – but most people just don’t get round to it.
“People need to stop for a second and think, ‘It could be me or my family that need a transplant’.”
In June, NHS Blood & Transplant (NHSBT) figures showed that a record 18 million people are now on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
However, the figure needs to be much higher, says the NHSBT, as just being on the register doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to donate your organs when you die.
This is because organs, particularly hearts and lungs, deteriorate rapidly without an oxygen supply and then can’t be used for transplantation.
As a result, most organ donations come from people who’ve died while on a ventilator in an intensive care unit, as the ventilator can keep blood and oxygen circulating after death.
Improvements in road safety and medical intervention also mean fewer organs are being donated from road accident and brain haemorrhage patients.
Conversely, the number of people needing a transplant is expected to rise steeply over the next decade, due to an ageing population, an increase in kidney failure – sometimes caused by adult-onset diabetes – and scientific advances resulting in more people being suitable for transplants.
In fact, the NHSBT released figures last month showing that despite the bigger pool of potential donors, patients face increasingly long delays, with the average wait for a new heart rising almost 70% over three years up to 2009, and the average wait for a new kidney rising 20%.
The surgeon describes the success of organ transplantation as spectacular.
But he warns: “There are almost 8,000 patients waiting, and a substantial proportion of them won’t live long enough to receive a transplant.
“This is one thing we can all do that costs nothing and will transform the lives of so many others.
“A lot of people can benefit a great deal from just one donor’s organs.
“Anyone who would wish for transplantation for themselves or a member of their family should think about registering as a donor too.”
Prof Friend says it’s hugely frustrating that patients have to wait for transplants, and the wait can be very risky.
“Many of them are living difficult, fragile lives and aren’t sure if they’ll live long enough to receive a transplant,” he explained. “The majority of transplants are successful. It’s totally life-transforming, and patients live normal lives afterwards.
“I’ve done a lot of surgery outside transplantation, and it’s the most transforming surgery you can do.”
Potential donors are urged to speak to their family before signing up to the register.
Trish Collins, an NHSBT specialist organ donation nurse, said: “In my experience, when families are faced with the question about whether their loved one’s organs are to be donated, if they don’t know what the person wanted, it makes it very difficult.
“Some families will say yes to donation because they want something positive to come out of something so tragic, knowing that anything from two to eight people’s lives could be saved by donating their loved one’s organs."