by Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to increase the number of organ donors have urged Wales to follow Belgium’s lead.
The Kidney Wales Foundation believes Belgium’s decision to introduce an opt-out organ donation scheme shows how changing the law can increase the number of donors.
And it has said Wales should heed the Belgian example.
The calls come as the Welsh Assembly Government prepares to publish a range of options for organ donation in Wales.
It is thought that one of these will be the introduction of an opt-out system.
Wales, like the rest of the UK, currently has an opt-in organ donation system – people who want to donate their organs after their death must sign up to the Organ Donor Register.
But there is growing support for a “soft” opt-out system – also known as “presumed consent”.
Under this system people who do not want to donate their organs would have to register but relatives would still be consulted at the time of death.
Roy J Thomas, chair of the Kidney Wales Foundation, said, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Donate Wales campaign: “The brutal reality is that people in Wales waiting for a transplant are dying because of the shortage of donors – statistically, it’s one person every 11 days.
“We stand at a crossroads where the urgency for change has never been greater.
“Kidney Wales has looked carefully at the way in which other countries in Europe have benefited from the introduction of an opt-out system.
“In the 23 years since this system of organ donation was adopted in Belgium, for example, many more hundreds of lives have been saved in comparison to Wales.
“A responsible and factual debate on this health issue is needed.
“A change to an opt-out system of organ donation, coupled with the introduction of more donor co-ordinators in Welsh hospitals, would lead to hundreds more lives in Wales being saved by the gift of organ donation.”
Belgium introduced its “soft” opt-out system in 1986 and increased the number of transplant co-ordinators at the same time.
Just 2% of the population has opted out of organ donation – by registering at their local town hall – and the national rate of organ donation rose by 55% within five years.
The latest figures show that in Belgium there were 291 deceased organ donors in 2007 compared to only 51 in Wales – Belgium has one of the highest rates of donors per million people in the world.
There were 488 kidney transplants carried out in Belgium in 2007 from deceased organ donors. During 2007-08 in Wales there were only 84 kidney transplants using cadaveric organs.
Sara Griffiths, 46, who has had a kidney and a pancreatic transplant and lives in Raglan, Monmouthshire, said: “Being on the waiting list for a transplant is gruelling – you’re alive but you’re not living.
“People on the waiting list need hope, they need to know that something proactive is being done to lessen their burden.
“To hear that an opt-out system is being considered would give people on dialysis something to hope for because with more organs available there is a better chance for a life.”
An Assembly Government spokesman said: “Health Minister Edwina Hart is committed to increasing organ donation in Wales and has taken action to achieve this.
“She has worked closely with Kidney Wales Foundation and funded the Donate Wales: Tell a Loved One campaign which aims to encourage people to sign up to the organ donation register and, importantly, to explain their wishes to relatives.
“In addition, a series of public debates were held across Wales to gauge people’s views on organ donation and the issue of presumed consent.”
A summary report of the responses to the debates is due to be published today, along with a consultation document which sets out some specific options for changes to the organ donation system in Wales.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves