New organ donation law in England already saving lives: Consent rates strong six months on from introduction of Max and Keira’s Law

Published on: Friday, 20th November 2020

Friday 20 November 2020 marked six months since Max and Keira’s Law (Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2020) came into effect in England and saw the country shift to an ‘opt out’ system for organ donation. 

The new law, which saw England change to an opt out system alongside Wales and Jersey, means that people in England are now considered as willing to donate, unless they have opted out, are in one of the excluded groups, or have told their family they don’t want to donate. 

For the first time since the new law came into effect on 20 May, NHS Blood and Transplant are publishing initial data which highlights the positive impact the new law has had to date in helping to save lives through the gift of organ donation. 

Initial figures collated up until 31st October 2020 show that so far 135 people have donated their organs, after being considered as willing to donate as they had not expressed an organ donation decision during their lifetime.  These donations account for 26% of all donations that took place during the same time period and resulted in a total of 341 organs transplanted. 

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Although the law change came into effect in the midst of the first lockdown, we have been able to complete training for all of our specialist nurses and implement the new law across the country. 

It is still early days, but we have been really encouraged by the levels of support shown for organ donation and the new law over the last six months.

“While it is important to remember that many of these families may have agreed to organ donation even if the law hadn’t changed,  for others, it has provided them with the confidence to allow organ donation to go ahead.”

Even though the law around organ donation has now changed, it is important to know that people still have a choice and families will still be consulted if organ donation becomes a possibility. 

Of all the families approached about organ donation between 20th May – 31st October, when the criteria for deemed consent applied, the consent rate (percentage of families giving their agreement for organ donation to go ahead) was 71%.  In comparison, the consent rate was 91% for patients who had expressed their decision to donate and 52% for patients who had not expressed a decision and were in one of the excluded groups.  

Since April 2016, more than 2000 people across the UK have died while waiting for an organ transplant.  The hope is that the new law will eventually enable more people to donate and/or receive the transplants they need. 

Prior to the law change, around 80% of people in England said that they supported organ donation in principle, but only 38% had actually recorded their decision to donate.  When asked, the majority said they just hadn’t got around to it. 

The change in the law came about as a result of years of campaigning by patients waiting for transplant and families of those who have donated.

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “The last six months have been some of the most challenging for both the NHS and the country as a whole, so to see the numbers of people saying yes to organ donation, and in doing so giving the ultimate gift of life at this difficult time, is really incredible. It shows just how strong the support for organ donation is across the country. 

We are humbled that despite everything, the remarkable efforts of organ donation and transplant teams across the country, as well as the enduring support of donor families, has enabled us to keep transplants going for those in most urgent need throughout the pandemic. 

“Even though the law around organ donation has now changed, it is important that people know that families continue to be consulted if organ donation becomes a possibility. 

“Sadly, many organ donation opportunities are still lost each year, as families don’t know if their loved one wanted to be a donor or not. Please don’t wait. Register your organ donation decision and speak with your family today.”

For more information, or register your organ donation decision, please visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.

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