Nurses support organ donation opt-out law

The UK’s largest professional nursing organisation supports an opt-out system of consent for organ and tissue donation after death across the UK.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members agree that there are not enough registered donors and a significant majority believe that an opt-out system could help increase the number of organs available.

Organ donation rates have increased significantly in the last decade but the shortage of donors means hundreds of people die waiting for transplants each year.

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The RCN’s Professional Nursing Committee, which took the decision on the College’s new position, backed members’ calls for any opt-out to come with resourcing, evaluation and clear conditions attached to how it operates. These would include limiting the opt-out to adults, putting in place awareness and education programmes in advance of any changes and engaging with families in the process.

More than in seven in ten nursing staff – of the 7,700 members who responded - supported a move to the opt-out system. The RCN surveyed members in all UK countries for its first consultation on the issue for almost a decade. In each country of the UK, a clear majority of members supported an opt-out.

Only one in ten nursing staff believe their patients have given much thought to donating organs and tissues after death and 89 per cent of RCN members agreed that not enough people donate their organs and tissue.

Legislation to introduce opt-outs in England and Scotland are being debated over 2018. A private member’s Bill in Westminster - that received initial parliamentary support in February - would bring England into line with Wales where a soft opt-out system of consent for organ and tissue donation was introduced in 2015. Scotland is expected to introduce similar legislation in the next few months. Legislation to introduce an opt-out in Northern Ireland fell in 2016, but work is underway to increase donation rates in other ways.

However, before any opt-out system is introduced, Governments must increase investment in the number of Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation, the Professional Nursing Committee of the RCN said.

Governments must launch public awareness campaigns no less than a year before any change and continue campaigning to ensure individuals know how to opt out, the Committee added as it gave ‘qualified support’ for an opt-out system of consent. Any change must also be limited to adults and routinely reviewed based on the rate of successful donations.

The RCN called for an awareness and education programme for all health care professionals and clear guidance on the operation of any opt-out scheme.

The survey also found that only 25 percent of RCN members said they felt confident enough to speak about organ donation with patients and their families.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “When people still die because suitable organ donors cannot be found, nursing staff agreed it was time to reopen the debate.

“Our members from across the UK have given overwhelming support to an opt-out to give countless people awaiting transplants a fighting chance, as long as clear conditions are applied.

“Where individuals feel strongly, for whatever reason, they must be supported in opting out.  Where governments pursue an opt-out anywhere in the UK, we will ensure our members’ views are heard and will call for the system to be communicated clearly with the public and health professionals.”

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