More than 500 bereaved families have blocked the transplant of organs despite knowing their relative is a registered donor, figures reveal. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) estimate 1,200 people have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment after 574 transplants – around one in seven – were vetoed by families.
The body is now taking steps to stop these "overrides" of registered organ donors' wishes by providing families a leaflet which explains that consent remains with the dead and asking families to put their reasons for attempting to block transplants in writing.
NHSBT said not seeking relatives' permission could see the number of donations rise by 9%. However, the body will continue to ask a potential donor's family to help assess the risk of their relative donating organs, but will not actually ask the next-of-kin to confirm consent or authorisation. There are currently 6,578 patients on the waiting list for an organ transplant.
The body said a majority of people in the UK found it "unacceptable" that families could block the transplant from registered donors. According to a survey conducted by NHSBT, 73% of respondents said they thought the next-of-kin should not be able to overrule a decision to donate after someone has died, compared to 11% who thought it was acceptable to do so.
Sally Johnson, director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "We understand that families are approached about donation at a very challenging time and that it can come as a surprise to find out a relative had made a decision to donate. This can make it difficult for families to support donation going ahead and their relative saving lives.
"We want to draw attention to the fact that while most families approached about donation support their relative's decision to donate as recorded on the Organ Donor Register, a number of families each year override a previously made donation decision. We hope that by raising this issue we will prompt more families to talk about donation and reduce the number of families overriding their relative's decision to donate.
"Isn't it important that the dying wishes of as many people as possible are honoured by their families so more lives can be saved and transformed through transplantation? We know that donor families take enormous pride from knowing that their relative helped others. We also hear that some families have gone on to regret overriding a relative's decision to donate. We think our proposed changes would make the existing legal situation clearer to families and hopefully help them support their relative's decision."