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Improving family consent in organ donation could save lives

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Organ donation rates could increase if more families were encouraged to give their consent, according to UK researchers.

At present, only 30% of the UK population are registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

From 2003 to 2005, the overall consent rate for donation after brain death (DBD) was 59%. This figure remains largely unchanged with a consent rate of 63% for DBD in 2007-09.

Writing in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, researchers from Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary and NHS Blood and Transplant say the low consent rate for organ donation in the UK is the largest factor limiting actual organ donor.

Currently, organ donation consent is established by views expressed prospectively via membership of the organ donor register or views expressed to a family member.

However, when a patient dies and has not previously expressed a wish to their relatives about organ donation, the healthcare professional will discuss donation with the family.

Up to 10% of families of potential donors, who are on the register, still refuse assent to donation. At present, it is accepted practice to respect the family’s wishes despite the existence of valid legal consent.

Lead study author Dr Angus Vincent said: “It is an improvement in consent rates, more than in any other area, that would see a real increase in donor numbers in the UK.”

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