Public urged to save lives by talking about organ donation

Organ Donation Week

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is calling on people to get talking about organ donation and share their donation decision with their loved ones this Organ Donation Week (3 – 9 September). 

The ‘Words save lives’ campaign highlights the need to tell your family you want to save lives through organ donation. More and more people are supporting organ donation, but there is still an urgent shortage. 

“People are dying every day in Northern Ireland because some families are not talking about donation. Recent statistics here reveal that 14 people died last year waiting for an organ,” said Dr Catherine Coyle, PHA Lead for Organ Donation.

“There are approximately 150 people currently on the transplant waiting list in Northern Ireland. 

“It is encouraging that current statistics show 43% of the Northern Ireland population (approximately 818,000 people) have signed the Organ Donor Register, but we must not become complacent. We know for example that there has been a levelling out in the rate of consent given by families to allow organ donation to proceed after the death of a loved one. 

“In order to raise the number of people getting life-saving transplants it is imperative that you tell your family your wishes. So in addition to signing the Organ Donor Register, it’s important to let those around you know what you want. This means that, should the worst happen, it will be easier for your loved ones to make a positive choice about donating your organs.” 

Monica Hackett, Regional Manager with the Northern Ireland and Northern Organ Donation Services Team, said: “We need more people in Northern Ireland to talk about organ donation to increase the number of lifesaving transplants. 

“Forty three percent of people have signed the register in Northern Ireland, but many have not told their families of their decision, despite 8 out of 10 people telling us they would be willing to donate or would consider it. 

“Sadly, many opportunities are lost every year because families don’t know if their loved one wanted to be a donor or not. We would encourage people to consider organ donation, to sign the Organ Donor Register and most importantly talk to their family about their decision. This can make things easier for families at a very difficult time. Talking saves lives.” 
The Public Health Agency is also highlighting the need for people over 50 to sign the Organ Donor Register. 

Dr Coyle said: “Many over 50s don’t join the register or tell their families they want to donate because they don’t think their organs could help other people, but this is not factually correct. People in their 50s and older can and do donate their organs. If more people in the older age groups tell their families they want to be donors, even more lives could be saved. 

“Recent figures show that while across the UK 21% of those joining the Organ Donor Register were over 50 at the time of registration, in Northern Ireland the figure is 16%. 

“With an ageing population, we hope that more older people will sign the register, talk to their loved ones and ultimately help save lives.” 

Billy Kelly from Carryduff lost his wife Gertie in 2011 when she was 73. 

Billy recalls: “In 2011 Gertie and I discussed the need to sign up for organ donation although we didn’t actually sign the Organ Donation Register at that time. Tragically Gertie died one week later but I knew from that conversation that Gertie wanted to be a donor. This experience emphasised the importance of the subsequent advertising campaign to ‘Have the Conversation’ to increase awareness of organ donation and indeed reinforces the current focus on ‘Words save lives’.” 

Billy is also anxious to emphasise the importance of people over 50 signing up for organ donation and discussing their wishes with their loved ones. As in Gertie’s situation, there is no age barrier to becoming an organ donor. 

“The recipients of Gertie’s donated liver and kidneys would have had no idea that she was 73, indeed the recipients would have been only too grateful to have been given the gift of life and a chance to live.” 

Another aspect of Organ Donation Week that will encourage conversations within communities about organ donation across Northern Ireland involves buildings lighting up pink. A number of councils in Northern Ireland are lighting up civic buildings – from Belfast City Hall to Fermanagh, Craigavon and Derry/ Londonderry, Newry, Armagh, Banbridge, Omagh, Causeway Coast and Glens. 

If you want to be an organ donor, join the register and tell your family and friends as soon as possible because we know that families are much more likely to agree to donation going ahead if they know it is what their loved one wanted. 

If you haven’t already signed the register or would like more information, please take the time to visit which is packed full of information and resources.