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What is the new opt-out organ donor system?

The decision to adopt an opt-out organ donation system could save hundreds of lives, Prime Minister Theresa May claims.

The move, outlined today at the Tory party conference in Manchester, means patients are automatically signed up to be organ donors when they die, and they have to opt-out if they don’t wish to. 

English campaigners have long argued for the Government to adopt such a system to increase the number of organs available.

Figures estimate that around 6,500 patients are on the waiting list for an organ that could save their life. Such lists can be as long as five years.

And last year 457 people died in England while waiting for a transplant due to the shortage of organs, NHS data showed.  

English campaigners have long argued for the Government to adopt an opt-out organ system that Theresa May has just announced

Mrs May’s plan is the polar opposite of the current system, which requires healthy adults to sign up to donate their kidneys, hearts and livers when they die.

Wales became the first country in the UK to adopt the system in 2015, which was deemed a ‘significant’ and ‘progressive’ change.

Growing pressure on English health officials, from the media, politicians and doctors, was behind the decision.


After the decision was made in Wales two years ago, figures showed an immediate rise in the availability of organs.

Between December 2015 and June the following year, half of the transplants in Wales came from patients whose consent had been deemed.

But critics hit back and warned that there is a lack of proof that an opt-out system actually helps to increase the number of donor organs.  

Spanish officials implemented the system in 1979 and saw rates of donor organs increase after 10 years, the BBC reports.

But Sweden, which adopted a similar scheme 20 years ago, still has one of the smallest stocks of donor organs in Europe. 

Mrs May said: ‘Our ability to help people who need transplants is limited by the number of organ donors that come forward.

‘That is why last year 500 people died because a suitable organ was not available. And there are 6,500 on the transplant list today.

‘So to address this challenge that affects all communities in our country, we will change that system. Shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation.’

Are there restrictions? 

Under the new opt-out system in England, family members are still given a final opportunity to not go ahead with the organ donation.

It is believed the rule only applies to those who are deemed mentally capable of giving consent.  

The move comes after a poll of 2,000 people earlier this year revealed that two thirds of the public are in favour of the opt-out system.

Commissioned by the British Medical Association, the survey also highlighted how only 39 per cent are signed up to donate their organs. 

Aileen Campbell, the Scottish Public Health Minister, announced proposals in June to also sign every citizen on the organ donor register.