Organ Donor Cards

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th February 1992.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 12:00 am, 18th February 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps his Department has taken over the last 12 months to promote the carrying of organ transplant donor cards; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The Department maintains a continuous campaign to promote the carrying of donor cards.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

Is the availability of donor organs more of a limitation on the transplant programme than the availability of resources? Will there come a time when that might become so acute that the Minister would be prepared to consider an opt-out as opposed to an opt-in donor system? How much money has been spent in the past year on promoting the donor card, compared with that spent on the more partisan promotional material which the Government have put out on their other health policies?

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

We distributed more than 10 million donor cards in the past 12 months. For a long time we have made it clear that the largest restriction on the growth of the transplant programme is the availability of donated organs, although it is not a restriction which has stopped the programme in its tracks. I remind the House that 33 kidney transplants per week are now completed, compared with 16 per week in 1979, and that there are now six heart transplants and seven liver transplants every week—a total transplant programme of 46 operations every week of the year. The programme is going well, but needs to go better. The best way to further enhance it is for every citizen to carry a donor card and to ensure that their families are aware of their view that their organs should be available for transplantation after their death.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

Does my hon. Friend agree that only about 60 per cent. of potential donors have organs retrieved from them? Does he agree that that is partly due to the failure of some consultants to seek organs on every possible occasion and also to the reluctance of some next of kin of potential organ donors to give their consent? In those circumstances does he think that there is a place for a new organ donor card, which has to be countersigned by next of kin? Will he consider a much stronger publicity campaign for organ donation?

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My hon. Friend is known to the House to be a great expert on this issue. He is right to say that a significant number of organs, which could be used for transplantation, are not used. We are conducting some research to establish the full range of reasons why that is so. We are specifically considering the proposal that the donor card should be countersigned. I am much more sympathetic to that proposal than I am to the opt-out proposal advanced by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).