A RECORD number of people are alive today because of an organ transplant – 50,300 to be exact.

When figures were first recorded, in 2008, there were 15.1 million people on the organ donation register.

Now it is 23.6 million, according to the NHS UK Transplant Activity Report.

The number of people receiving a transplant in a single year has also reached 4,753, an increase of 20 per cent in the last five years.

Last year, the number of deceased organ donors reached its highest yet at 1,413 – up by 4 per cent – and there were 1,043 living donors which the NHS attributes to record levels of public support for organ donation and improvements in survival rates.

The report follows Scotland’s recent announcement to introduce a system of organ donation based on presumed consent, meaning you are automatically in unless you opt-out.

Wales led the revolution in December 2015 when it became the first nation to make the switch.

England will be left to rely on health campaigns and the public’s goodwill. Doctor Helen Agostini, has been the clinical lead for organ donation Colchester General Hospital for four years as well as being a member of the trust’s organ donation committee.

While all eyes are on our UK neighbours, she explains it is too soon to assess the impact of their decisions.

She said “A lot of the data isn’t out yet so we don’t know for sure whether the opt-out it’s making a difference in Wales.

“The big difference will always be the family members saying yes because opt-in or opt-out makes no difference if the family refuses.

“But one of the really good things about changing a system is it makes those conversations happen.

“There’s been a really concerted effort from NHS Blood and Transplant to increase donation in the UK because compared to Europe, we were really far behind so we’ve improved dramatically.

“The eastern region particularly is very good. The Eastenders storyline with Phil Mitchell and the media’s input has helped people talk about it so when relatives are approached, they’re more positive.”


Realistic - Dr Helen Agostini admits the trust desperately needs family's support

Family refusal is the biggest obstacle to boosting the numbers of transplants.

Even if a person is on the organ donor register, family members still have the final say when asked the big question at hospital.

The NHS recognises that specialist nurses and a family knowing their relative’s wishes beforehand are the most important factors for the success of its seven-year strategy to ramp up the organ donor rate until 2020.

This is especially important for black and minority ethnic communities where the donor rate is significantly low.

She said: “By definition, to donate your organs you have to be on a life support machine.

“This is where there’s a significant challenge because people don’t speak about what they want to their relatives.

“In some communities up to two-thirds of relatives say no when they’re approached, so it’s so important people talk to family about their wishes.

“It’s a huge problem in our country but it’s such a difficult time for a family.”

Approximately eight transplants are carried out each year at Colchester General Hospital, which Dr Agostini said is in line with other regional hospitals but in comparison with need, must be raised.

Nationally, 457 people died last year while on the active transplant waiting list which contained 6,388 people.

A total of 58 per cent of those received a transplant.

However, organ donation rates are among the highest in the East of England at 24.7 per million population (pmp) last year for deceased patients and 12.8pmp for living donors.

The North East – which has the highest total rate in England – is 28.6pmp and 19.8pmp respectively.

Meanwhile, 38 per cent of the people in the East are registered donors.

She said: “Everyone always thinks of the more complicated and solid organs like the heart but you can donate the corneas for corneal grafts.

“Although it’s a difficult thing for people to grasp, it’s absolutely life-changing for someone with significant sight defects or blindness.

“There’s also your soft tissues like muscles and tendons but also skin, if someone has had a significant burn injury.”

For the moment the NHS can enjoy a job well done but the fact remains - there is still an overall shortage of donated organs.

Colchester’s organ donation committee has plans for a large education package to be rolled out to hospital staff to raise their knowledge and confidence.

During Organ Donation Week in September, the focus will then switch to community engagement in the hope it gets people talking.

She said: “Most people are incredibly positive especially when they realise you’re far more likely to need an organ than you will ever be asked to donate your organs.

“That’s why each opportunity is precious because it’s so rare. Not everyone can donate.

“However, when you speak to relatives who’ve said yes, they get huge comfort from knowing their loved one could save up to seven people’s lives.”

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