Hundreds of lifesaving organ transplants ‘blocked by bereaved families’ – NHS data

© Eric Gaillard
Nearly 600 lifesaving organ transplants have been blocked by bereaved families in the last five years, new National Health Service (NHS) figures have revealed.

New data released by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) on Friday shows relatives have blocked the donations of 574 UK-registered donors since 2010, about one in seven cases. 

Several relatives refused to give permission even when the deceased said they had wished to donate their organs after death, according to the research.

NHSBT says it will no longer seek a family’s formal consent, in order to reduce the number of “overrides.”

Instead, families will be given a leaflet which explains that consent rests with the deceased.

However, they can still block the donation by providing valid reasons in writing.

NHSBT estimates the 547 blocked donors would have provided organs for 1,200 of the 6,578 patients on the waiting list for a transplant.

It claims that not asking relatives could result in the number of donors rising by 9 percent.

‘Tougher approach’ 

Sally Johnson, NHSBT’S director of organ donation and transplantation, told BBC News: “We are taking a tougher approach – but also a more honest approach.

My nurses are speaking for the person who has died. People who join the register want and expect to become organ donors. We do not want to let them down.

We have every sympathy for families – and of course we do not want to make their grief worse. We think this will make what is a hugely distressing day easier for them, by reducing the burden on them.

The principle that the individual affected is the one who consents applies throughout medicine, and it is not different because someone has died.”

‘Consequence of blocking donations is death’ 

Specialist nurse James Hardie, from St Mary’s Hospital in London, said “people die as a result” of families refusing the donation of organs.

That is the unfortunate reality of the situation,” he told the broadcaster.

If somebody refuses the opportunity for their loved one to become an organ donor, somebody potentially goes without a transplant.

‘Respect wishes of the deceased’

The British Medical Association (BMA) argues that families should be “strongly encouraged” to respect the wishes of the deceased.

In 2015, the number of deceased organ donors dropped, with several family members refusing to give consent.

In the last decade, nearly 49,000 people have waited for an organ transplant, according to NHS figures.