Geoffrey Robinson: The Organ Donation Bill can save lives – but we need MPs' support

Posted On: 
19th February 2018

Introducing an 'opt out' system for organ donation could save as many as 500 lives a year. It’s time for Members of Parliament to act, writes Geoffrey Robinson

England has some of the lowest rates of consent for organ donation in Western Europe, writes Geoffrey Robinson

Over the course of the last century, organ transplantation has overcome major technical limitations to become the success it is today. Due to the wonders of scientific discovery, it is now possible to keep organs alive and in good enough condition for successful transplants for much longer. However, the greatest stumbling block for much wider lifesaving transplantations has remained from the outset the shortage of suitable donor organs. One deceased donor can save up to nine lives. 

Indeed right at this moment, there are five thousand men, women and children waiting on transplant lists in England. Tragically, 457 people died last year waiting for a compatible transplant that was not available in time. According to the BMA, the majority of adults across Britain would donate their organs but only 3 in 10 have signed up to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Everyone should be considered an organ donor unless they state otherwise - British Heart Foundation

The situation in England is disappointingly low; it has some of the lowest rates of consent for organ donation in Western Europe, with family consent rates being one of the major impediments to over a third of suitable organs being used.

Wales has already introduced a lifesaving law similar to the Bill I propose, and it has seen family consent rates jump by 48%. Now over 7 in 10 families approve consent in Wales – that figure was as low as 5 in 10 before the new law was implemented. Over time this is bound to increase the pool of suitable organs for donation leading inevitably to increased successful transplants. The soft opt-out model which the Welsh government introduced in 2015, is showing early promise. As well as increasing family consent rates, the potential pool of donors has almost tripled.

By contrast, family consent rates have seen little improvement in England. England’s poor performance means the Department of Health will almost certainly fail to meet its 80% target family consent rates for the UK as a whole by 2020.

In England one third of families where a family member has already opted into the system, consent for organ donation is overridden by a relative. One of the principal aims of the Bill is to encourage family discussions prior to death of the family member so that the real wishes of the deceased will be known and carried out.

Of course the Bill in itself is no silver bullet. Public awareness is vital if opt-out is to be successful. There are already encouraging signs with the government’s public consultation which Dan Jarvis and I urged the government to undertake. The consultation has attracted over 10,000 individual responses from members of the public writing in their own capacity which is by far the largest response to a consultation of this type ever. We understand there is strong support for the deemed consent concept.

This is an all-party Bill in its fullest sense, supported by all the party leaders. My colleague Paul Flynn was the first to introduce a Bill but it was dropped due to the snap election. But the Daily Mirror’s superb ‘Change the Law for Life’ campaign continued and has sustained and encouraged me through the ups and downs of getting a Private Members’ Bill into Second Reading.

The Bill has the support of the British Medical Association, Kidney Care UK, the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung Foundation. But without the support of at least 100 MPs voting this Friday 23rd February, the Bill may not pass and in all probability it would be many years before a similar Bill is brought before the House.

There are 650 Members of Parliament. There are 6,500 people in the UK waiting for organs. This is a Bill the NHS projects could save as many as 500 lives a year. We need at least 100 MPs present and voting this Friday. Come on colleagues. Make the effort. Give it priority. Turn up, save lives. You would if it was your child.   


Geoffrey Robinson is Labour MP for Coventry North West. The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill will have its second reading on Friday 23 February