I beg to move,
I start by sending my thanks and, I am sure, the thanks of the whole House to the nurses and medical staff who make up the NHS Blood and Transplant service and the staff who run the NHS organ donation register. It is a relatively small team in the grand scheme of things, but it is thanks to their effort and their utter brilliance that thousands of lives are saved each year which may otherwise have been lost, and it is thanks to their ingenuity and dedication that last year organ donations in the UK reached a record high. The difference they are making to families whose loved ones have been given a new chance at life often goes unsaid.
I would also like to take this opportunity to note the work of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who have put the issue of organ donation firmly on the parliamentary agenda in recent years.
Organ donation is improving year on year, in part due to small changes such as the option for someone to sign up when they renew their driving licence. Last year alone, that method saw an extra half a million people register to become potentially life-saving donors. These are small changes that are making a huge difference. However, as the NHS Blood and Transplant service has said, there is an awful lot of work to be done not only to raise consent figures—currently at 62%, despite evidence suggesting that over 90% of the public would give their organs in death—but to encourage families to have that difficult conversation about what they would do if the unthinkable happened.
Family refusal after the death of a loved one is, sadly, the single biggest barrier to organ donation. Of course, it is completely understandable and natural that, in the aftermath of a life-changing loss, all that people want to do is to preserve what is left behind, but if 80% of families consented 1,000 more lives a year could be saved and 1,000 more families kept together. So I would like to take this opportunity gently to urge families to have that conversation, to find out their loved one’s wishes and to tell them theirs, because the chances are that, if the unthinkable happened, their loved one would want to save a life.
While much of the focus is rightly dedicated to those brave families who have made that difficult decision, living donors should also be hailed for their selflessness in giving a kidney, part of their liver or bone marrow to save the life of someone they may never even have met. It is living donors for whom my Bill would guarantee legal rights they have so far not enjoyed.
Six thousand people nationwide are currently going through the utter agony of waiting for the call that could save their lives, but, year in, year out, the availability of those organs never matches need. Living organ donors are playing their very significant part in bridging that heart-breaking gap. Last year alone, over 1,000 of them donated part of their liver or a kidney, and many more donated their bone marrow.
The criteria for organ donors mean many are often of working age and in work. It hardly needs saying, but giving an organ is an enormous commitment, and if someone is an employee, the time needed off work may give them pause for thought. The NHS advises that living donors can expect to need up to 12 weeks’ recovery time. This will vary from person to person, and depending on what job they do, but the point is that this is a very serious commitment for any would-be donor.
People have to weigh up whether they can afford to take that time off if their boss insists they take it unpaid and if they have to wait for any compensation to come through from the relevant NHS trust. They have to weigh up whether they can make the commitment to be out of work for that length of time. They are also always worrying in case their position or their terms and conditions are not quite the same on their return as when they left. That uncertainty is unacceptable. It is putting barriers in the path of people becoming life-saving donors. Currently, the law has nothing to say.
The issue was brought to my attention by a man who told me he had donated bone marrow to an anonymous blood cancer patient. He was allowed just three days off work—unpaid—to cover the time in hospital. He felt pressured to return, and he was accused of “making himself sick” by his employer. That is just one example, but it tells us of the pressures faced by workers who may want to donate.
Any and all barriers standing in the way of living donors must be dismantled. The lack of legal employment protections, which is holding back these potential life-savers, is significant, and it can be easily corrected by Government. That time out of the workplace may completely deter young people, in particular, who have the highest likelihood of donating high-quality bone marrow.
That is why my Bill will guarantee living organ donors the right to paid time off to allow them to recover, safe in the knowledge that they will not be financially penalised and that their job will be waiting for them when they return. An employee will not be checking their phone, worried they may get a call off the boss, or rushing back to work because they are worried they should be there. Instead, they can have the time off that they need to get better and that they so deserve for having saved a life.
The Bill will also guarantee that employees’ terms and conditions and their rights are the same on their return as when they left. In an age where workers feel increasingly insecure in their jobs, and where, at the sharp end of the economy, unscrupulous employment practices are rife, these legal guarantees could make the difference between donating or not. We are already chronically short of donors, and we should be clearing every conceivable barrier put in the way of these potential life savers. I am delighted that major businesses such as my own former employer, Aviva, and the DIY retailer, Wickes, back my call. It is fantastic that a cross-party group of MPs, including the Chair of the Health Committee, is supporting it as well.
Each donation is an astonishing story of bravery in its own right and a life-changing moment for the individuals and families who benefit from that generosity. As work gets increasingly precarious, employees must rely on the protections in law that guarantee their rights. These guarantees will not only bring peace of mind but help to increase the number of living donors from 1,000 and bridge the gap between availability and need. Crucially, this will send a clear signal from Government, and from this House, that if you are prepared to give an organ to save a life, the law will back you every step of the way.
Question put and agreed to.
Louise Haigh accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday