BAME Blood, Stem Cell and Organ Donation — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 27 June 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford 4:00, 27 June 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for her hard work on the review and I look forward to working together on the issue.

It is clear that increasing the number of BAME stem cell donors requires a many-sided approach, but one of the most important things that can be done is to integrate information about donation into the formal curriculum, which the review recommends. We already know that education works. For example, Anthony Nolan and other blood disorder charities have had great success working with schools, universities and colleges across the UK. Just last month, I wrote a letter to all schools with a sixth form in or near my constituency to ask whether they would consider using an assembly or personal, social, health and economic lessons to teach students about the importance of donating stem cells, blood and organs. I am delighted that one of the schools has already agreed to do so.

Since the Hero Project started in 2009, more than 32,000 people have signed up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell donor register, and approximately 16% of them are from a BME background. The Hero Project recognises that the different religious views about organ donation are one of the barriers preventing people from signing up to the organ donation register. Anthony Nolan and other blood disorder charities recognise and respect those diverse views and tailor their message to suit different interpretations of faith. They focus on what people can do to help, not on what they cannot do.

The review found that the three main barriers that prevent people from signing up are a lack of knowledge or awareness, religious permissibility and a lack of trust in medical institutions. The opt-out system for organ and tissue donation, with additional safeguards, is welcome, but there must be an awareness campaign that is mindful of the cultural sensitivities relating to organ donation and addresses the significant pressure on NHS Blood and Transplant’s capacity to accommodate any rise in organ donations.

It is vital that we get more young people from BME backgrounds, such as students, to sign up to the stem cell donor register, because the research shows that the younger the donor, the more likely the patient is to survive. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that all students aged 16 and above have the opportunity to learn about the importance of donating stem cells, blood and organs? There is a real desire in the BME community —especially among the younger generation—to turn this issue around.

I was touched by the action of the Bandhan Bedford Group, a group of Asian professional women in my constituency who helped to add 300 new names to the stem cell register. They organised a stem cell drive this month in Bedford, with support from the blood cancer charity DKMS, to help Kaiya Patel, a five-year-old girl who I understand is still waiting for a lifesaving match for her rare and aggressive form of leukaemia. I know that similar drives are taking place around the country, but this is a race against time. It has been reported that, to have a chance, Kaiya needs a transplant within the next two months.

There is a strong will out there to increase the life chances of people from a BAME background. I hope that this timely review, which highlights the scale of this silent crisis, is enough to spur the Government into assisting communities with a more co-ordinated approach. This blatant inequality must end.