Organ donation has increased in the UK, however, the demand for organs for transplant exceeds the number of organs available. One way of increasing organ donation is by changing the way people consent to donate organs after death by adopting a ‘soft opt-out’ system. This is where it is presumed that people are happy to donate their organs after their death unless they have indicated otherwise, by registering their decision to opt-out. People will still be encouraged to register their decisions to donate as usual. This way, decisions about organ donation are given to individuals to make during their life, not to their families after they die. By changing to a ‘soft opt-out’ system, hopefully more people will donate their organs and more transplants can happen.
Wales moved to a soft opt-out system in December 2015 – meaning that since 2015 most adults living in Wales are presumed to want to donate their organs unless they opt out on the NHS organ donor register, or tell a relative or close friend that they do not want to be an organ donor. Consent rates in Wales have improved, however, implementation of the new system was not straightforward. Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation found the new system difficult to navigate; people in Wales did not fully understand the changes; and family member(s) continued to think that they were the decision makers for organ donation after their relative died.
In 2020/21 Scotland and England implemented soft opt-out systems of organ donation similar to Wales. The Department of Health and Social Care has commissioned PIRU to undertake an evaluation of the new legislation – the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act, 2019.
The evaluation is being undertaken in collaboration with colleagues at Bangor University who completed a similar study in Wales, and the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC). We are also working closely with NHS Blood and Transplant on the study. For further information, contact Nicholas Mays.