Page last updated at 06:48 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Donors up but organs still short

Surgeons during an operation
A multi-million pound campaign is to be launched to encourage donation

The number of people on the organ donor register in the UK has hit a record 16 million, meeting a government target of doubling 2001's numbers a year early.

However, the gap between supply and demand for organs is still growing and 1,000 people are expected to die this year while waiting for a transplant.

The NHS figures show people in Scotland and the south-west of England are the most willing to become donors.

It is thought the debate on presumed consent may have boosted numbers.

The idea of introducing presumed consent, under which people would be placed on the organ donor register automatically unless they "opted out", was rejected last year by a panel of experts appointed by the government.

They said such a move was unlikely to increase donor numbers and posed a significant risk of eroding patient trust.

Instead, a 4.5m public awareness campaign is to be launched in England aimed at boosting voluntary donor numbers.

More than one in four people in the UK are now on the donor register.

Scotland: 32%
North-East: 24%
North West: 25%
North West: 25%
Yorkshire and Humberside: 25%
East Midlands: 25%
West Midlands: 22%
East of England: 28%
London: 22%
South Central: 27%
London: 22%
South West: 32%
Wales: 27%
Northern Ireland: 27%

But, despite the rise in numbers, the UK still has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe.

Since 2001, nearly 24,000 transplants have been carried out using donor organs, but at least 4,500 people have died while waiting for a suitable organ to become available.

This year, about 1,000 people are expected to die waiting for an organ.

There is a particular shortage of organs for black and Asian patients, who on average wait about three or four times longer for an organ than white patients, according to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

Organ donor register rates are, at 32%, highest in the health regions that cover Scotland and south-west England, followed by the south-east coastal area of England at 30%, according to figures collated by NHSBT.

Lynda Hamlyn, the body's chief executive, said: "Reaching 16 million on the NHS Organ Donor Register a year before planned is testament to the support that exists for donation in the UK.

"More than a quarter of the population have demonstrated their commitment by signing the register.

"But, with almost 8,000 people in the UK currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, we need to do more."

NHSBT said it was looking at draft plans to try to increase the number of organ donors by a further nine million by 2013.

A spokesman said this was "a challenging target that we cannot achieve without a huge amount of public support".

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