NSW on an organ donation mission

THE NSW Government is on a mission to increase the state’s organ donation rate, which is currently the lowest in the country.

NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, said NSW hospitals had identified 215 potential organ donors last year but of those only 77 (36 per cent) actually donated organs.

She wants the NSW organ rate to almost double to meet the national target of 70 per cent.

The Minister last week announced a new strategy designed to see NSW organ donation rates match and ultimately exceed those achieved by other states and territories.

It has been welcomed by the medical community.

Mrs Skinner said it was “simply not good enough” that one in every six people whose lives can be saved by organ donation dies waiting for a suitable donor to become available.

“Donating tissues and organs saves lives – it’s as simple as that,” she said last week.

Chief executive officer of Transplant Australia, Chris Thomas, said the way that individuals can indicate their willingness to become organ donors needs to be simplified.

“There’s no doubt that the existence of both the motor registry option and the national Australian Organ Donor Register has confused the public,” Mr Thomas said.

He said making it easier for people to ‘opt in’ to one register was an important part of the strategy.

State Medical Director of the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service, Dr Robert Herkes, said clinicians needed particular skills when requesting consent from families to donate a loved one’s organs.

“The NSW Government plan identifies as a key priority the need to support clinicians to ensure they have the specialist skills required,” Dr Herkes said.

To assist this, a comprehensive training program training program for specialist clinicians to be rolled out across NSW will include specific training in family conversations.

“Our key message to the community is to talk with your family about your organ donation wishes, because should the unfortunate experience ever arise where you may become a potential donor, it is your family that will be required to provide consent.

“This is always a very traumatic time and knowing your loved one’s wishes makes this decision a little easier for families,” Dr Herkes said.

The new strategy has been welcomed by the Australian Medical Association (NSW).

AMA (NSW) president, Associate Professor Brian Owler, said almost half of all Australians in need of an organ transplant reside in NSW, yet the state has the lowest rate of organ donation in the entire country at only 10.9 donors per million population.

He said this could be attributed in large part to the NSW driver’s licence registration process.

He said the matter of family consent was also a cause for concern.

“Currently in NSW almost half of all organ donors have their consent to donate overridden by their families in the event of death,” Associate Professor Owler said.

“This is an ongoing problem and we urge members of the NDW community to discuss organ donation with their family and make clear any desire to become an organ donor.”

There has been a considerable amount of discussion about organ donation in recent years with the family of Ulladulla racing driver, Ashley Cooper, campaigning to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation.

Cooper lost his life as a result of an accident in the Clipsal 500 in 2008 but his organs went on to save the lives of a number of other people.

More recently, Ulladulla’s Will Chapman – waiting in Sydney for a heart and double lung transplant – has been using social media to raise awareness of organ donation through his ‘A Gracious Gift’ campaign.

KEY INITIATIVES OF THE STRATEGY:

- Transferring existing donors from the Roads and Maritime Services organ donor register to the national Australian Organ Donor Register run by Medicare;

- Increasing community education and awareness campaigns to encourage people to have discussions with their families about organ donation;

- Employing specialists in hospitals to help families deal with the difficult decision about consenting to donation;

- Providing guidelines for doctors to help them uphold a patient’s desire to be a donor;

- Promoting living donation programs.

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