New law means everyone in the country will be an organ donor unless they opt-out

Natalie Kerr, who was given a double lung transplant seven years ago. Pictured with her children Isabelle and Brandon and the family dog, Coco.
Natalie Kerr, who was given a double lung transplant seven years ago. Pictured with her children Isabelle and Brandon and the family dog, Coco.

Three years after the Lancashire Post launched its organ donors campaign, legislation has been passed in parliament to put everyone in the country onto the organ donor register.

Parliament this week passed a law to make organ donation opt out, rather than opt in, meaning that everyone will be presumed to be an organ donor – unless they sign the

Natalie and daughter Isabelle

Natalie and daughter Isabelle

register opting out.

The move – which it is estimated will save up to 700 lives a year – has been welcomed by local campaigners who backed the Post’s bid.

Mum-of-two Natalie Kerr, whose life was saved by a double lung transplant, said: “This is going to save so many more lives.

“I know what it’s like waiting for a transplant. I desperately didn’t want to die, I have two children who I wanted to see grow up.”

Post editor Gillian Parkinson

Post editor Gillian Parkinson

Under the current rules, people – or their families – have to decide to become a donor, but the government estimates that presuming the dead’s consent rather than getting it before they die could save up to 700 lives every year.

The Lancashire Post launched the ‘Lancashire: Giving the gift of life’ campaign in February 2016, urging more people to become donors.

It was backed by Natalie, who lives in Adlington, near Chorley and was given a double lung transplant seven years ago.

She says that organ donation is the “ultimate gift“ and welcomes the change in law.

Vaughan Gething

Vaughan Gething

It was after Natalie gave birth to her daughter Isabelle that she was diagnosed with a condition called pulmonary hypertension which had caused damage to her heart and lungs.

Thanks to the transplant she has been able to watch Isabelle, 11, and Brandon, 16, grow up.

The family is completed by dog Coco, who joined them after Natalie had her transplant to encourage her to go walking and get fit.

Natalie, now 37, said: “I started a petition myself a couple of years ago I got a response from the Government which basically said no. I had collected 15,000 signatures.

“Everybody’s been trying to get the law changed. It’s going to save so many more lives.

“There’s a third of people who are on the transplant waiting list who aren’t going to make it as it stands right now.

“I know what it’s like waiting for a transplant. I desperately didn’t want to die, I have two children.

“It just gives people more hope so I’m all for it, definitely.

“I think the little boy Max has touched people’s hearts. He’s got a heart which is amazing. Organ donation is the ultimate gift.

“I have seen my children grow up thanks to a lovely lady that saved my life.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful.

“It doesn’t just affect one person it also affects family and friends.

“My children who were four and nine when I got my transplant could have lost a mum.

“They were only little and to leave them at that age would have been really sad.

“It’s just an amazing thing to be an organ donor. It’s the greatest gift you can give.”

The NHS Blood and Transplant service yesterday said there were 45,424 people on the organ donors’ register in Preston, with 11 people waiting for a transplant as of the end of January, five deceased donors in 2017/18, and 15 donations – from the deceased – taking place in the same time frame.

Nationally, around 1,000 people die every year waiting for a transplant, and England has some of the lowest rates of consent for organ donation in western Europe, MPs were previously told.

An opt-out law was introduced in Wales in 2015 but failed to increase the number of donations, a study later found, though health secretary Vaughan Gething said it was “too early to know the true impact” of the change.

The new legislation here will mean families can still block donations if they wish, however.

Jo Haythornthwaite, from St Annes, who lost her 58-year-old husband John, who donated his organs, to a brain haemorrhage in 2008, has campaigned to get people to sign up to the donors’ register, and is up for a national Unsung Hero Award for her tireless efforts.

She said: “I am very proud about the work we have done to promote organ donation across the Fylde coast and it is something that is very close my heart.”

Jo is also chairman of Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s organ donation committee, and said previously that donating John’s organs helped ease her grief.

She added: “That was amazing and I will never get over the feeling of knowing other people are benefitting.”

The new legislation had its final reading in Parliament this week and will now be given Royal Assent and passed into law.

NHS bosses said a reluctance to talk about the issue – with death and dying still a taboo subject for many – meant families often did not know if their loved one wanted to donate, and decided it would be safer to say no.

John Forsythe, medical director of organ donation and transplantation for the NHS Blood and Transplant service, said: “Sadly around three people die every day in the UK in need of an organ while more than 1,000 families say no to organ donation every year.

“Even after the new law, our specialist nurses will still speak with a potential donor’s family.

“It remains vital that people continue to have conversations with their family, to remove any uncertainty and offer peace of mind for those who find themselves facing the tragic loss of a loved one.”

Numbers on donor register

Preston

45,424

Number of deceased donors (2017/18) 5

Number of deceased donor transplants (2017/18) 15

Number on waiting list: 11

South Ribble

47,731

Number of deceased donors (2017/18) Fewer than 5

Number of deceased donor transplants (2017/18) 10

Number on waiting list: 6

Chorley

50,389

Number of deceased donors (2017/18) 6

Number of deceased donor transplants (2017/18) 10

Number on waiting list: fewer than 5

REGISTER

The new system comes in to place in spring next year.

Until then, anyone who wants to be an organ donor must continue to register their wishes.

To register and to find out more about becoming a donor, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk

'Major step forward'

Post editor Gillian Parkinson said: “Our ‘Giving the gift of life’ campaign was successful in encouraging more people to become donors under the old system.

“However, the new legislation will mean that even more people who desperately need a transplant operation will be able to find a suitable donor, so we are delighted to see the opt-out rule come into law as it is a major step forward.”

Did the Wales opt-out law work?

Two years after Wales adopted an opt-out system, there was no evidence it increased the rate of transplant operations, a study found.

In the 21 months after the new legislation came into effect in December 2015, there were 104 donors, while in the same period before there were 101, a report by the Welsh government found.

Last February, the NHS boss responsible for transplants, Claire Williment, said there was “no magic formula for organ donation”, and said: “It will always be making the most of every single opportunity, raising awareness, getting people to think about what they want to happen, and talk about what they want to happen.”

The country’s health secretary Vaughan Gething said it was “too early to know the true impact” and said the report suggested the reason for the lack of increase “may be because there have been fewer eligible donors over the short period since the change in law”.

He added: “It’s important to remember that it’s too early to know what the true impact of the change will be, but I’m confident we have started to create a culture where organ donation is openly discussed.”

Keira saved four people

Following the death of Keira Ball, from Devon, her organs were used to save four lives, including Max Johnson, then also nine.

At the time of her fatal accident, he was in hospital in Newcastle suffering from heart failure – and was reportedly being kept alive by a mechanical pump.

He told the BBC: “To be honest, I was ready to die. I didn’t think I would make it. I hugged Mum and Dad thinking this was the last hug with my parents.

“I want everybody to talk to each other.

“If a member of your family died, would you let your organs go to waste and decay, or save a few people’s lives?”