§ Q6. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)
What plans he has to increase the number of organ transplants taking place in the United Kingdom.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister
About 2,800 organs are transplanted each year, but currently more than 5,000 343 people are awaiting transplants. We are keen to improve donation rates. We are taking steps to increase public awareness, such as through the organ donor campaign, which was launched in October 1998. We want donors to carry their donor cards and, most importantly, to make their wishes known to their families. That is a matter of particular concern. We are developing another important campaign to inform the medical profession about best practice in dealing sensitively with organ donors and their families.
§ Dr. Harris
Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that the figures that I have obtained today show that the situation is getting worse? The number of terminally or critically ill people on a waiting list for a transplant has risen significantly, while the number of lifesaving transplants in 1998 dropped by 7 per cent. Is he aware that the current confusion in the law means that those who have given notice of their wish to donate and save a life and whose organs subsequently become available run a 30 per cent. risk of those wishes being vetoed by distraught or bereaved relatives, who should never be placed in that position?
Finally, if the British Medical Association votes next Thursday to support a move to an opt-out system of presumed consent, as has been introduced successfully in Europe, will the Government look seriously at reviewing the situation with a view to implementing such a proposal?
§ The Deputy Prime Minister
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has written to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today making many of those points. I have seen the correspondence and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond. Overruling relatives' wishes is very difficult in practice, however many of us may feel about the issue. However, refusal is almost unknown when relatives know that their loved one wished to donate. That is why our current publicity stresses the need to "let your family know your wishes". I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
I gather that the subject is to be debated at the BMA's annual general meeting. Opinion in the medical profession is divided. Ministers have continually said that we shall consider all suggestions for improving transplant rates, but any proposed measures in that sensitive area will have to command public confidence and support. On a more personal note, when I saw the question I asked myself the same thing. I have always been in support of a donor scheme, but I am not registered and I shall correct that tomorrow.