I’m an organ donor, see my wristband

Charity WristbandsCould a wristband persuade people to sign up as organ donors? This is what transplant patients and staff at the South West Transplant Centre in Plymouth hope.

Surveys show that 90 per cent of people support organ donation, yet only 31 per cent of the population is on the donor register, despite a government initiative in 2006 to increase the number. The UK, with 13 donors per million people, has one of the lowest rates in Europe. In Spain, which has a system of presumed consent (individuals opt out if they don’t want to donate), the figure is 35.

In a report published last week, NHS blood and transplant officials recommended that patients on the donor register be given priority for transplants to encourage people to register. The Welsh Assembly has also voted to introduce a similar system to that in Spain.
However, although Spanish law changed to presumed consent in 1979, it was not until 10 years later that the number of donations markedly increased. This is thought to be because of improvements in the system – in particular the role of donor coordinators trained to approach bereaved families.
Even if the law for the UK changed, there is no evidence that this alone will achieve the dramatically higher donation rates that the Department of Health is hoping to achieve. For that we need to improve public awareness.

This month, at the transplant centre based at Derriford Hospital, former transplant patients and staff have joined forces to launch the “Register and Pass it On” campaign. Some 2,000 blue wristbands are being distributed in Plymouth city centre, with the aim of creating a “viral message” to encourage people to sign up as donors.

We hope the majority will decide to wear the wristband and register at the website inscribed on it. We then ask that they give the wristband to a family member, friend or colleague, so that they consider becoming a donor.

We hope to reach hundreds of would-be donors locally – and millions if the scheme takes off nationally. We hope that other regions will adopt the scheme and that wristbands will be released annually, at the start of each national transplant week, so that in the event of bereavement, donation becomes the norm.
Most people would be happy to accept an organ for themselves or their family, should the need arise. Of course, people are reluctant to contemplate their mortality, but we hope that wearing a wristband will help people think about how being a donor might save or transform someone else’s existence.
One thousand people a year, or three a day, die in the UK because of a shortage of organs for transplant. It takes less than 90 seconds to add your name to the donor register, a gesture that may add many years to the life of someone who is on the waiting list for an organ.

Dr Austin Hunt is consultant nephrologist, South West Transplant Centre. For details of the donor wristband, call 0300 123 2323 or visit organdonation.nhs.uk

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