Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 00:40 UK

Older people can donate, says NHS

Surgeons during an operation
There are 10,000 people waiting for a transplant

The over-55s are unnecessarily writing themselves off as potential organ donors, transplant officials warn.

A poll of 1,540 people in the UK found more than half ruled themselves out because they felt they were too old or too ill for their organs to be of use.

But the official body NHS Blood and Transplant said they were misguided, as donors of all ages were needed.

It also pointed out that only two conditions - HIV and vCJD - would exclude someone from becoming a donor.

While conditions such as heart or kidney problems might rule out someone donating those specific organs, the experts said there were still plenty of parts of the body that could be donated.

Many people joke that we wouldn't want their organs, but with 10,000 people currently in need of a transplant, we really do
Professor James Neuberger, NHS Blood and Transplant

In total, there are 23 organs that can be donated as well as tissue such as skin, bone and tendons.

Nonetheless, 54% of over 55s said they thought they were too old or too ill, compared to 15% of those aged 55 and under.

The findings are also reflected by the proportion of different age groups who are on the donor register. While nearly a third of 16 to 25-year-olds are signed up and a quarter of 26 to 35-year-olds are, just 16% of the over 55s are.

Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "The belief that there is some sort of age limit on becoming an organ donor is a complete myth.

"Organs are successfully transplanted from people in their 70s and 80s, and the oldest cornea donor recorded was 104 years old.

"There are also very few illnesses that prevent someone from donating their organs after death - that's why we would encourage anyone who wants to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register to do so and ensure those close to them are aware of their wishes.

"Many people joke that we wouldn't want their organs, but with 10,000 people currently in need of a transplant, we really do."

The NHS Blood and Transplant Authority has made the plea as the UK has one of the lowest rates or organ donation in western Europe.

There are more than 16m people on the register, but an average of three people a day die waiting for a donor.

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