Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 08:34 UK

Ad prompts surge in organ donors

By Branwen Jeffreys
Health correspondent, BBC News

Scotland's organ donor publicity campaign

A Scottish advertising campaign has led to a huge leap in the number of people signing up to be organ donors.

The Kill Jill TV ad was controversial because of their hard hitting approach, but the government says the results justify the strategy.

But the ad, which was seen by around three million people has been linked to a 300% rise in donor numbers.

The figures emerged as the UK debates how to increase the number of organ donors.

A major issue is whether there is a need to shifting from the current opt-in system for donation to one of presumed consent.


In his first interview since becoming National Clinical Director for Transplantation in England, Chris Rudge has told the BBC that, regardless of whether the law is changed, it is important to press ahead with other changes recommended by a UK-wide Organ Donation Taskforce.

The policy on organ donation and transplant is co-ordinated on a UK-wide basis.

The Kill Jill TV ad however was commissioned by the Scottish Government as part of an additional attempt to increase the number of donors.

Tim Wainwright and John Wynne spent a year at Harefield Hospital, recording the experiences of transplant patients

While polls generally show very high support for donation only a quarter of adults get round to signing up to be a donor.

The Scottish TV ad was first broadcast in March and the figures on its impact have just been released to the BBC.

The ad was seen by more than three million Scottish adults at least once, and the campaign budget was 331,352.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, said: "During the course of the campaign there were around 85,000 people signing up in Scotland to be organ donors.

"Now some of them would have signed up anyway but given the numbers it would suggest the campaign accounted for a 300% increase."

The success of the high profile advert is likely to be seized on by those arguing that more effort should be made to improve the current system before considering a radical shift to presumed consent.

Even those personally sympathetic to presumed consent, like Nicola Sturgeon, believe other avenues have to be pursued.


The UK has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the developed world, at 12.9 per million people in the population. The equivalent figure for Spain is more than twice as high at 35.5 per million.

In January, the Organ Donation Taskforce made 14 recommendations, including the creation of a new national network of hospital based transplant co-ordinators partly modelled on the experience of Spain.

In England there are currently around 20 co-ordinators integrated into hospital teams.

The early evidence from these posts suggest many more families are offered the information they need to make a decision on whether to consent to organ donation after the death of their relative.

You could be saying goodbye to someone in the morning and within that day you could be facing very difficult decisions.
Christine Elding, transplant co-ordinator

Christine Elding has been doing the job at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for two years, after previously working as a regional co-ordinator.

She's very clear about the advantages of being close at hand when a family of an intensive care patient needs advice.

"These events often are very sudden - you could be saying goodbye to someone in the morning and within that day you could be facing very difficult decisions.

"Having someone based in the hospital means you can be on hand to answer their questions almost immediately they arise."

The hope is that if more relatives are given clear information about organ donation by someone trained to communicate in these circumstances the number agreeing may increase.

This is the best news from the government ever for those like me who need a transplant
Simon, Maidenhead

Increasing the number of hospital based co-ordinators is just one of the measures which will be put in place. Dedicated surgical teams on standby around the clock for organ retrieval are also to be created.

Chris Rudge, who started his new job this week, is charged with putting the taskforce's recommendations into effect.

He hopes the changes will bring about a cultural shift in which organ donation is more widely talked about.

The changes can, he believes, deliver the 50% increase in organ donations over five years envisaged by the taskforce.

So in the light of his optimism where does that leave the next report from the Taskforce on the controversial issue of presumed consent?

Chris Rudge says he doesn't want to pre-empt their work, but makes it clear that the other solutions may be more immediate.

"We need all the infrastructure in place if organ donation is to increase. The law lies above that - and whether we change it or not we'll have to wait and see.

"All the recommendations I'm implementing absolutely need to be in place whether we change the law or not."

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