The number of people waiting for an organ transplant has risen to five-year high as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.
The NHS has issued an “urgent plea” to people to make their loved ones aware about their wishes surrounding donation after the numbers waiting for a transplant increased.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said that an estimated 6,700 people are currently in need of a transplant across the UK – up from 6,138 prior to the start of the pandemic.
While services have made a “strong recovery” and deceased donor transplants are now back to pre-Covid levels, NHSBT said that an increase in public support is needed to help people on the list get the transplants they need.
The health body has estimated that the increase in patients waiting – expected to be the highest since 2015/16 – comes after services were impacted by the effects of the pandemic.
A number of transplants were put on hold due to the risk of recipients becoming immunosupporessed.
— NHS Blood+Transplant (@NHSBT) September 7, 2020
And potential donors are not able to donate if they are positive for Covid-19, reducing the number of potential donors, NHSBT added.
It is hoped that the introduction of Max and Keira’s law – making the organ donation system in England an “opt out” one – will lead to an increase in donors.
The law, which came into force in May, was named after Keira Ball, who died aged nine in 2017, and Max Johnson, now aged 12, who was saved by her heart.
The law in England follows a similar one introduced in Wales, which was introduced in 2015. Scotland is due to change to an opt-out system in Spring 2021.
Following the introduction of the law in England, families are still consulted before organ donation goes ahead, which is why health officials have implored people to make their wishes about donation known to their families.
It's #organdonationweek this week. If you haven't done so yet, make sure you have a conversation this week with your loved ones about your wishes. One conversation can help save lives. pic.twitter.com/MPJRJNlBxj
— NHS Cambs and Pboro CCG (@CambsPboroCCG) September 8, 2020
NHSBT estimated that 2,500 “transplant opportunities” were missed due to families saying no to donating their relative’s organs.
It said that 835 families declined to support organ donation in 2018/19 – with many families saying they did not know what their relative would have wanted.
Rick Phillips, from Retford, had a sudden brain aneurysm when he was playing football aged 38 in the year 2000.
The father of four was taken to hospital, but his family were told he could not be saved.
He was able to donate his kidneys, heart and liver.
Five years after her father’s death, Mr Phillips’ daughter Jade, now 27, was told she will likely need a liver transplant in the future due to a number of illnesses.
Mr Phillips’ wife Liz said: “Rick’s death came totally out of the blue. He was fit, healthy, in his thirties and had headed off to play football with his work team.
“He collapsed suddenly on the pitch and I received a call to let me know that he was being taken to hospital.
“Luckily, we had had a conversation and I knew I had to ask about organ donation when they said he wasn’t going to survive.
It’s now been 20 years since Rick passed, and not a day goes by we don’t think about him. I miss him like it was yesterday. But the pride we have in him has never faded and there are people living their lives because of him. We know he will never be forgotten.
“It came as a total shock to discover that Jade was ill and may one day need a transplant too. Although we had spoken about donation as a family, we never imagined that one of our children could end up needing a transplant from someone else.
“I’m now so grateful we chose to donate Rick’s organs. I firmly believe that if you would be willing to accept a transplant, then you should equally be prepared to give.”
John Forsythe, medical director for Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “In 2018/19, we saw more people across the UK go on to donate their organs than ever before. In 2019/20, we were on track to surpass the figures of the previous year, but sadly the impact of Covid-19 reduced the number of donations and transplants able to go ahead.
“With thanks to the remarkable efforts of organ donation and transplant teams across the country, as well as the incredible support of donor families, we have fortunately been able to keep transplants going for those in most urgent need throughout the pandemic.
“We are all now focusing our efforts on continuing our recovery but in order to do this, we need public support more than ever.
“We know that when families know their relative’s organ donation decision, they are more likely to give their support. Knowing what their relative wanted, can give families a lot of comfort and make what is a difficult time, that little bit easier.
“While most people agree that it is important to talk to their family about organ donation, it is less likely that they will have actually had this important conversation.
“Sadly, many organ donation opportunities are lost every year because families don’t know if their loved one wanted to be a donor or not. Please don’t wait. Speak to your family about organ donation today.”
– For more information or to register your organ donation decision visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk