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Move towards presumed consent organ donation

Organ donation box

An opt-out system for organ donation which could save ‘many lives’ has moved a step closer in England.

That was the message from doctors leaders after the prime minister outlined plans to tackle waiting list deaths by moving from the current opt-in system – a change the BMA has lobbied and campaigned on ‘tirelessly’.

During her speech at the Conservative Party annual conference, prime minister Theresa May said 500 people died waiting for a transplant last year because a suitable organ was not available.

She added: ‘Our ability to help people who need transplants is limited by the number of organ donors that come forward.

‘That is why last year 500 people died because a suitable organ was not available. And there are 6,500 on the transplant list today.

‘So to address this challenge that affects all communities in our country, we will change that system. Shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation.’

The BMA has campaigned on the issue – which will now be put to a formal consultation, with the intent of changing to a presumed consent model – for many years.

It was supported by party leaders at both the Liberal Democrat and Labour party conferences which took place prior to the Conservative party conference.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The decision to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation in England is excellent news. The BMA has lobbied and campaigned tirelessly on this for many years and has the potential to save many lives.

‘It is important that the new process is well publicised to ensure the public are fully aware of and understand this important change. The health service must also have the resources, as well as facilities, to ensure transplant procedures can be performed when they are needed.’


Stifling stigma

The prime minister also used her speech to announce a review of mental health services and the Mental Health Act, led by former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor Sir Simon Wessely.

She said: ‘Tackling the injustice and stigma associated with mental health is a particular priority for me … there is widespread concern that the existing mental health legislation passed more three decades ago is leading to shortfalls in services and is open to misuse.

'Detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high. And it is people from black and minority ethnic populations who are affected the most.’

Dr Nagpaul said the announcement was ‘encouraging’. He said: ‘The BMA has argued for many years that mental health services are underfunded and overwhelmed by demand, with many vulnerable patients struggling to get access to the right level of care because of a lack of integration and preventive care.

‘The prime minister is right to highlight the worrying issues faced by individuals from an ethnic minority background who suffer from high rates of detention under the Mental Health Act’s provisions. Any review of the act must seek evidence from a wide range of health specialist and community sources, and it has to consider the fundamental funding problems facing mental health services. Changes to the law will be meaningless unless there are resources to provide the specialist help that many vulnerable patients need.’

Other health leaders also echoed the welcome for the news. Mental Health Network chief executive Sean Duggan said: ‘The Mental Health Act plays an important role in supporting people who have reached the point of crisis. However, it is nearly 35 years old and clearly needs refreshing, so we welcome the prime minister’s commitment to this review. We can think of no one more qualified then Professor Sir Simon Wessely to conduct it.

‘Detentions under the act have risen year on year since 2010-11 and are still disproportionately used with members of black, asian and minority ethnic communities.

‘We must ensure there are sufficient preventive services in place to help people before they reach crisis point.

‘We urge the Government to continue with its promise of putting mental health on a par with physical health. Implementing some joined-up thinking between preventive and crisis services would be a key step toward this.’

Find out about the Government's consultation on the organ donation opt-out system

Read more about the BMA’s work on organ donation and mental health

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