Families urged to talk about organ donation

18 September 2023

Today marks the start of Organ Donation Week.

Organ Donation Week is a national celebration of organ and tissue donation and transplantation which saves and transforms hundreds of lives each year. Organ donation is a most precious gift and the selfless act of donors and their families is at the heart of Organ Donation Week.

During Organ Donation Week, the Public Health Agency is urging people to confirm their donation decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, and talk to their families about organ donation, as around 7,000 people are actively waiting for a transplant across the UK, 155 of those in Northern Ireland.

The law around organ donation in Northern Ireland changed to an opt-out system on 1 June this year, however it remains very important for everyone to talk about their organ donation decision with family, and to register their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Organ donation and transplantation is vital in saving lives. Across the UK last year (2022/23), thanks to the 1,429 people who donated their organs after death and the 958 living donors, 4,533 people with organ failure, who desperately needed a transplant, were given a gift of life. 

In Northern Ireland in 2022/23 there were 59 deceased donors who enabled 140 lifesaving transplants across the UK, and 68 living donors who gave the gift of life to a further 59 patients. In total, 155 patients in Northern Ireland received a deceased or living donor transplant, helping to give them the gift of life.

In the year to date (1 April – 31 August 2023), there have been 23 deceased donors who have enabled and amazing 61 transplants to take place.

Each and every donor is precious, however only around one in 100 people who die in the UK are usually able to donate their organs after death. Donors are typically those who have died in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department due to brain injuries, cardiac arrest or other trauma. Therefore, it is vital that everyone who wants to be a donor registers their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and talks it through with their families who will be expected to support their decision should the time come.

Families are far more likely to support donation when they already knew it was what their relative wanted. 9 out of 10 families honour their family member’s decision when the donor had either proactively registered their decision to donate on the NHS Organ Donor Register or spoken with their family.

54% of people in Northern Ireland have registered as an organ donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register, however initiatives like Organ Donation Week are an important opportunity to raise more awareness.

Aidan Dawson, Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency said:

“Family conversations around organ donation are so important to ensure they know what you would want to happen.  Even though the law around organ donation has changed to an opt out system, family members continue to be consulted before organ donation goes ahead. This means it is important to let your family know what you want as it can help them support their loves one’s decision.

 “We also urge people to proactively confirm any decision to be an organ donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register, as this provides families with further reassurance as to your donation decision.”