New report aims to improve the systems surrounding organ use so more lives can be saved by transplantation

Posted on: 21st February 2023

The British Liver Trust has welcomed the recommendations outlined in a new report published today which aims to improve our transplantation system and will hopefully result in more liver transplants for those in need. The report also outlines how improved collaboration between transplant centres can increase the number of successful organ transplants.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Communications and Policy said: “It’s great to see that patients will be involved in the design of a better system of communication between them and clinicians to make the process clearer and easier to understand.”

Patients waiting for organs will benefit from changes to organ transplant services designed to better match donated organs with recipients, increase the number of transplants and improve the patient experience.

The Organ Utilisation Group has produced the report ‘Honouring the gift of donation - utilising organs for transplant’ which includes a number of recommendations - accepted by the government - designed to make sure as many donated organs as possible are used to save the lives of patients on the waiting list.

These recommendations include placing the patient at the centre of the service, developing better systems so more organs are used and sharing best practice to raise standards across transplant centres.

A key element to making the most of donated organs is better co-operation between transplant centres. During the pandemic transplant centres improved their communication with each other so organs went to the most suitable patient rather than simply the one who lived closest. This will be built on to increase the chance of successfully matching donated organs to patients.

Recommendations to improve patient care include:

  • Patients and clinicians to work together on how they can communicate more throughout the process. This will include better evaluation of the whole experience, including the emotional and psychological pressures of waiting for an organ, rather than just the clinical outcome.
  • Regular feedback from transplant centres to help those on the transplant list to better understand the clinical options available to them and make informed and evidence-based decisions
  • More timely reviews if donated organs are declined and the sharing of best practice between centres to raise standards across the country.

The government has already introduced an opt-out system to increase the number of available organs. This report details how to best honour those donations by using as many as possible to save lives.

Minister for Health Neil O’Brien said:

“This government vowed to increase organ donation and improve organ transplant services - including by making the most of scientific advances and adopting novel technologies across the country as early as possible - and we are keeping our promise.

“We are taking forward recommendations which will ensure as many organs as possible are matched with the recipients who need them as well as improving the experience of waiting for a life saving organ.”

There are currently an estimated 7,000 patients on the active transplant list. Patients requiring transplants face life-threatening conditions with physical and psychological burdens and every day, on average, at least one person dies waiting for an organ.

The government commissioned the organ utilisation group - made up of medical experts, patients, donors and stakeholders - to review how the organ transplant system currently operates and how it can be improved. Too often organs were not properly utilised and there were varying standards of performance and patient care. The group consulted widely with patients and their families, medical experts and international colleagues, before making a series of recommendations which the government has accepted.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, co-chair of the Organ Utilisation Group said:

“It has been a privilege to Chair the Organ Utilisation Group, working together with colleagues from across the breadth of the transplant community to improve the number of organs that are accepted and successfully transplanted, and ensure equity of access across the country.

“Organ donation is a precious gift of life, helping to save or improve the lives of thousands of people each year. The recommendations in this report will drive improvements to the transplantation service, ensuring that as many donated organs can be successfully transplanted as possible, and deliver real improvements for patients and their families, enabling them to have the best experience and outcomes possible.

“Driving, developing and supporting research and innovations in transplantation will be key to these improvements. National multi-organ centres for assessment and repair will increase the opportunities to bring new techniques into everyday clinical practice, maximising the number and quality of organs available for transplant.

“Transplants, organ donors and the teams that make them possible give people a second chance at life and these new recommendations will enable the NHS to change the lives of thousands more people in the years to come.

The report also includes recommendations on how to quickly identify and adopt proven technologies and scientific advances to put innovations into practice.

The UK has a strong track record in developing pioneering transplant services and the report identifies how best to take the practical steps required to enable new technologies to be applied to clinical therapy.

Chief Executive Officer at NHS Blood and Transplant Wendy Clark said:

“Organ donation is a precious gift and we need to ensure that every organ that is safe to transplant is used to save lives.

“NHSBT has an ongoing commitment to empowering patients and supporting transplant teams in their work. We look forward to working with colleagues across the transplant care pathway to implement these recommendations and by working together, even more lives will be saved every year through the gift of organ donation.”

The opt-out change to organ donations - known as Max and Keira’s Law - was designed to increase the number of organs available. The organ donation taskforce report revolutionised donation services and led to a 50% increase in organ donor rates within five years and then almost doubling within 10 years. 

Welsh Government Health Minister Eluned Morgan said:

“The Welsh Government is committed to improving organ donation and transplantation services in Wales. We welcome this report and will consider all the relevant recommendations as we deliver our Welsh Donation and Transplantation Action Plan.”

Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland Peter May said:

"As Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, I welcome the report. Organ donation is a key priority for my Department and I look forward to working with colleagues across the UK to increase the number of organs available for those in need of a transplant and to improve the whole donation and transplantation journey."