The legislation – hailed as a “game-changer” – will see all adults in England automatically considered organ donors unless they have specifically opted out. They will be deemed to have given consent to donate their organs when they die if they have not explicitly stated otherwise and are not in an excluded group. It has been estimated that the new opt-out method, known as Max and Keira’s Law, will lead to an additional 700 transplants each year by 2023.
Nine-year-old Keira Ball saved four lives, including that of Max Johnson, also nine, after her father allowed doctors to use her organs for transplants following a car crash in 2017. It has been welcomed by patients but health minister Lord Bethell has warned the Government is aware the legislation may not take effect straight away “due to the limitations of Covid-19”.
Douglas Craft, who has been on the waiting list for a kidney for two years, said the timing of the change was unfortunate when so many transplants had already been stopped from going ahead by the pandemic.
Douglas, 73, a retired butcher from Chichester, West Sussex, had a successful kidney transplant in 2000 which lasted 18 years.
He said: “It’s the best policy really, but it’s such a waste of organs. If it was a safer environment it would be fine. I’m hoping it’s going to be a game-changer.”
Figures released by NHS Blood and Transplant show the number of transplants carried out in the UK has fallen dramatically in recent weeks.
Just 99 were performed in April compared with 244 in March.
NHSBT said it would take a while for organ donation to return to normal levels, but that transplant activity will increase “as it is appropriate and safe to do so in the coming weeks and months”.
NHS donor cards will now become much more widely available, either being posted out on request or being ready to download as PDFs. Steve Burton, 58, who has been waiting for a kidney since November and is now shielding at home in Blackpool, said: “I’m looking for the gift of life from somebody and the fact that a lot more people are now in that window can only be a good thing for me.”
Steve, on furlough from his job at a commercial catering business, added: “When you go on the waiting list you’re waiting for a phone call. So you carry your mobile 24/7. Because of corona it’s now suspended but I am still prepped and ready to go when we start again.”
Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK, said with eight out of 10 people on the waiting list requiring a kidney transplant, the new law is “lifechanging news for kidney patients”. She added: “Although there are currently significant delays and disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic this legislation will help more transplants take place when the situation improves.”