Highest ever number of organ donors, despite drop in numbers of people eligible to donate

Posted on: 25th July 2019

New figures published today by NHS Blood and Transplant in the annual Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report show that last year, 1,600 people in the UK donated their organs after they died; saving or improving the lives of 3,941 transplant recipients and giving hope to those still waiting.

This achievement is particularly remarkable given that figures now show that just 5,815 people died in circumstances where organ donation is possible; a 4% drop and 225 fewer eligible donors than in 2017/18. With fewer eligible donors, it is more important than ever to ensure that everyone who is able and wants to donate their organs after they have died is given the opportunity.

The increase in the number of organ donors was made possible thanks to more families agreeing to support donation, fewer families refusing to support their relatives decision to donate and an increased referral rate of potential donors by medical staff to organ donation teams.

The new report (link to doc below) also provides some figures specific to liver disease. During 2018-2019, 1,227 patients joined the liver transplant list - an increase of 20% from the previous year. However there was a slight decrease in the number of liver transplants that were performed - 981 compared to 1031 in the previous year.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy at the British Liver Trust said, "The reasons for the slight decrease are complex and are currently being investigated. They are thought to be related to the changing characteristics of both donors and recipients.

Liver transplantation is a highly successful treatment for end-stage liver disease and the vast majority of people go on to live full and healthy lives. However, every year hundreds of people with advanced liver disease die whilst waiting for a transplant. No Life saving transplant would be possible without the generosity of donors and their families - they really do give the most precious gift of life."

Despite the rise in donations, the overall number of transplants (for all types of transplant) was also slightly down, with 87 fewer organ transplants taking place than the previous year (3,951 in 2018/19 compared to 4,038 in 2017/18). The reasons for this decrease are complex and still being fully explored by the organ donation and transplantation community, however changing donor characteristics may play a part. The data shows for every 10 donors, there was one fewer transplantable (and in turn, transplanted) organ than last year.

Sadly, in 2018/19, 400 people died while waiting for their call and a further 777 were removed due to deteriorating health. Many of these would have died shortly afterwards.

A spokesperson for the British Transplantation Society, said:

“Transplantation is complex and we continue to look at every opportunity to maximise the use of donated organs to benefit our patients. The success of transplantation means that many patients are now living longer but may have more complex health issues or may require more than one transplant in their lifetime. Careful consideration is always given to finding a suitable organ to give every recipient the best chance of a successful transplant. As a community we are committed to increasing transplantation opportunities for every person in need of a transplant and we are continually developing and testing new technologies and techniques to further improve the organ donation and transplantation pathway, as well as continuing to highlight the need for more organ donors. This ongoing effort will allow us to make the best use of each precious organ and lead to the highest benefit for our patients.”

In 2020, the law around organ donation will be changing in both England and Scotland. Both countries will be introducing an opt out system for organ donation, just as Wales did in December 2015 and Jersey from 1st July 2019. Wales now has the highest consent rate of all the UK nations, now 77%, up from 58% in 2015. It is hoped that once the law change comes into force in both England and Scotland, and as awareness of organ donation is heightened in the public consciousness, we will see similar increases across both these countries.

It’s your choice whether or not you want to donate your organs. Please find out more and register your decision by visiting NHS Organ Donor Register and ensure you tell your family:  www.organdonation.nhs.uk

You can read the full Organ donation activity report here: NHSBT Liver transplant report