This time a year ago I was waiting for a liver transplant. A year on, and I am taking each day as it comes and loving being alive and healthier in many ways than I ever have before. So, dear reader, in between your mince pies and roast potatoes this year, I would like you to spare a moment for those who won’t be feeling quite as joyful as you and your loved ones. Across the country are hundreds of people desperately waiting for an organ transplant, without which, they will quite simply die.
In the speeches of the two major parties in 2017, Labour said it would implement a change in the law to presumed consent if it gained power, and the Conservatives went as far as to say they would have a public consultation on a change in the law to presumed consent. This is the closest the UK has come to a real change in the UK system. Currently, it lags behind Scotland and Wales which have both implemented presumed consent and this new consultation seems to acknowledge that the subject of organ donation needs to be addressed if the number of deaths from organ shortages, is ever to be reduced.
According to NHS Blood and Transplant, thirty-one people have died on the heart transplant waiting list, since last Christmas Day. (Bosely, 2017) Whilst, according to new figures the number of people waiting for a heart transplant this Christmas has increased by 24% compared to last year and includes 33 children, who will spend this Christmas seriously ill. (Bakker, 2017) For the lives of the family and friends of those waiting, I know only too well how their lives can be blighted with fear and uncertainty, never knowing if or when a call might come that could, quite literally change the life of the loved one, who so desperately needs the transplant.
In Wales, the number of patients dying on the transplant waiting list has fallen 18.5% in the two years since an opt-out system came in. In the year 2015/16 to 22 in 2016/17, suggesting that if the opt-out system was applied across the UK then 85 of the 457 NHS patients who died waiting for organ transplants last year would still be alive today.
Figures showing the positive impact of the system in Wales are revealed in a 75-page “Impact Evaluation” report.
Families can still override the deemed consent of a relative. But the report shows the percentage of families giving consent rose from 44.4% in 2014 to 64.5% in 2017.
There is no doubt that there are numerous opportunities for people to join the organ donor register in their everyday lives, but a change to presumed consent could be lead to more conversations being held between people about their wishes after they die. It is these conversations which will help the organ transplant coordinators when they have the conversations with families when there is an opportunity for an organ donation.
There are prompts to join the organ donor register when you apply online for services including registering to vote, applying for passports, booking a practical driving test, renewing their Oyster card or going over to contactless payment with Transport for London. This is in addition to people who already see a prompt when renewing their driving licence or tax disc online. (Gov.UK, 2017)
This year, I celebrated Christmas with my family in Cornwall. The day was dappled with rain and showers, but we completed our yearly tradition of driving up to the North Coast of Cornwall and a beach picnic. Yes! A picnic in December. Porthtowan is a beautiful beach, with stunning views to be had from the cliff tops surrounding the sands. Up, high on the cliffs is a grey granite bench dedicated to a surfer no longer with us. It’s a wonderful place to sit and take a moment to reflect.
Last year we sat on the bench and I said a silent prayer that I might receive a new liver. I knew I was one of many on the lists and there was no guarantee I would get one. When the call came on the 16th of August, everything changed. Although my recovery since then hasn’t always been smooth sailing I am excited to be alive and every day feel a little stronger.
Today, as we drove away from the beach we had to cross a bit of sandy terrain. Since we had parked some more vehicles had blocked us in. As we tried to negotiate the road the tires began to sink and I was transported back to two years previously when at the same beach we had experienced a flat tire (and I managed to lose the car keys – luckily my father had brought a spare pare otherwise we would have been stranded). Fortunately, the people who had blocked the road helped to push the car out and we were off. It took a few of us to push the car out (not me – as I still need to be careful of my operation) and get it started, but so clearly it highlighted how when we work together as a team we can achieve.
As a team, if we work together we can change the law in the UK to presumed consent. This doesn’t mean we will lose control of what happens to our bodies, it means we may have a chance to save hundreds of lives.
If you haven’t already, please consider joining the organ donor register and complete the government presumed consent consultation. We need to let the government know how we feel about such an important issue or the law will never change.