By SOPHIE BORLAND
PUBLISHED: 00:00 EST, 11 July 2013 | UPDATED: 06:24 EST, 12 July 2013
Patients who have agreed to be organ donors could be given priority if they ever need a transplant themselves under controversial NHS proposals.
Experts say those prepared to give up their own organs should be moved up transplant waiting lists.
The plans are part of a raft of initiatives to encourage more people to join the organ donation register in the hope of saving hundreds of lives a year through transplants.
Patients who are registered as organ donors may receive priority on transplant waiting lists under the plans being considered by the NHS in an effort to boost donation levels
But critics warned yesterday that they could unfairly discriminate against patients with strong religious or ethical views who do not want to sign up to the list.
Professor Bobbie Farsides, an expert in medical ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said someone’s chances of getting an organ should be solely based on their need.
‘It’s a big step… to transform the way we allocate organs for donation when we’ve traditionally looked at people’s clinical needs, and that alone,’ she said. ‘Certain religious groups – the orthodox Jewish – have very entrenched views that make them very resistant to organ donation.’
GPs ‘ignore NHS official guidelines and deny IVF to over 40s in order to save money’
Just one more NHS statistic: She devoted her life to the Health Service, but when nurse Gillian begged NHS Direct for help, it failed her
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m prepared to stick quite rigidly to the view that anyone who desperately needs an organ should climb the list.’
The NHS is also considering banning grieving families from overriding patients’ wishes to give up their organs after they have died.
More than 19million people are on the UK donor register but 1,000 people a year still die waiting for a transplant
At present relatives are allowed to stop medical staff removing their loved ones’ organs after death even if they had been signed up to the register for years.
The NHS Blood and Transplant Authority is hoping to ‘revolutionise’ the public’s attitude to organ donation in the hope of saving many more lives through successful transplants.
There are 10,000 patients needing new organs – most commonly liver, kidneys and hearts – and three die every day waiting.
Last week, the Welsh Assembly passed a Bill where consent for organ donation will be presumed unless a patient had opted-out before death
But although the number of Britons signing up to donate their organs has increased, most die in old age when their body parts are no longer healthy enough to be given to anyone else. Each year organs from only 5,000 people who have died are deemed healthy enough to be transplanted.
There are 19.5million people on the register but the NHS wants to increase this to 25million.
Under plans that are going out for consultation, the NHS wants to introduce a system similar to that in place in Israel and Singapore whereby patients who had previously signed up to the register would be given priority on transplant waiting lists.
But this would not mean patients could boost their chances by quickly signing-up as soon as they found out they needed a new liver or kidney, for example. They would need to have agreed to become donors before they became ill. Professor Hazel Biggs, an expert in healthcare law and ethics at the University of Southampton, said: ‘If we incentivise people to go on the donor register list we’ll get more donors and therefore more transplants.
‘You have to take into account fairness and equity. Is it fair to accept an organ, if you need one, when you haven’t been prepared to give an organ?’
Sally Johnson, director of organ donation and transplantation at the transplant authority, said: ‘We urgently need a radical change in donor and family consent.
‘That means we need to have a serious debate in our society about our attitudes – is it fair to take if you won’t give?’
In 2015, Wales will become the first country in the UK to introduce a system of presumed consent whereby patients’ organs are automatically taken after death unless they had specifically requested otherwise.
There are currently no plans to bring in a similar scheme in England, although the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, is strongly in favour.