Taking place from 7-13 September 2020, Organ Donation Week is an annual initiative which aims to raise awareness of the need for organ donors with a view to saving and enhancing the lives of those who need transplants.
Organ donation is the process where a person allows an organ of their own to be removed and transplanted to another person. Any person in the UK can consent to allowing some or all of their organs to be used after death to help another person live well by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register online.
More than 6,000 people in the UK are currently awaiting an organ transplant, with organs commonly required including the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, corneas, pancreas, tissue and small bowel. Last year, 47 people in Scotland died waiting for a transplant.
The necessity for organ donors has been heightened by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the transplant waiting list growing as thousands of organ transplant operations have been delayed or cancelled due to the crisis. Furthermore, a fall in violent crime and car accidents during lockdown has meant that the pool of organs available to doctors has been reduced.
Ensuring the safety of organ donation and transplantation during the pandemic has presented a substantial challenge to the NHS.
Significantly, organs from donors who have tested positive for COVID-19 cannot be used. This means that a high number of organs that would normally have been available for transplantation are no longer available.
As of March 2021, Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Act 2019 will become law in Scotland, meaning that the current system of people ‘opting in’ to organ donation will be replaced with a new ‘opt out’ system.
Hence, anyone who dies in circumstances where they could become a donor and have not recorded a donation decision may be assumed as willing to donate their organs and tissues for transplantation. Under this system, individuals will still be able to opt out of organ donation by registering their decision online.
Once this legislation is implemented, thousands of more organs will be made available every year for the benefit of individuals in need of an organ transplant. Similar laws have already been adopted in England and Wales as of 2020. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“Organ Donation Week 2020 provides an ideal opportunity for Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub to urge citizens in Cumbernauld to seriously think about organ donation.
“Due to the pandemic, this year’s campaign is less focussed on local events and more digitally-orientated. As such, we are encouraging Cumbernauld organisations, individuals and families to support the initiative through their online and social media platforms.
“By choosing to become an organ donor, any given individual is potentially saving one or more lives in the future. The impact on someone’s lifespan and quality of life is likely to be seismic.
“While most people agree that it is a wise thing to talk to their family about organ donation, it is less likely that they will have actually had this important conversation.
“Sadly, many opportunities are lost every year because families don’t know if their loved one wanted to be a donor or not. That’s why we would encourage you not to wait and to talk about it at home today.
“We are delighted that opt-out organ donation system is being introduced in Scotland next year, but until then there is still a critical need for people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.
“This is particularly important with the number of organs available for transplantation significantly reduced as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.”
As well as organ donation after death, courageous individuals can also register to become a living organ donor. Indeed, in excess of 800 Scots have transformed the lives of others by becoming living kidney donors in the last decade. This is possible because a healthy person can lead a completely normal life with only one working kidney.
There are currently over 400 people on the transplant list in need of a kidney in Scotland. The average waiting time for a kidney from a deceased donor is three years. It is also known that those receiving a kidney transplant from a living donor have a better long-term prognosis. More about organ donation through UK Living Kidney Sharing Schemes can be obtained by clicking here.
Three years ago, Cumbernauld played a major role in the promotion of organ donation nationally by hosting several events and providing over 100 volunteers for The British Transplant Games 2017.
The Games, which are held annually to celebrate life and help UK transplant patients regain their fitness, saw over 2,000 transplant athletes and their supporters from across the country travel to North Lanarkshire to compete in 25 sports over four action-packed summer days. Cumbernauld played host to The Games’ snooker events at Red Triangle Snooker Club and the fishing competition at Magiscroft Fishery in Condorrat.
At the time, local promotion and awareness raising through The Games resulted in a spike in the number of North Lanarkshire citizens joining the NHS Organ Donor Register. Cornerstone House Centre is pushing for another surge of donor registrations in 2020 as the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic are realised.
Greater Cumbernauld has a higher than average proportion of residents living with health conditions that require or could potentially require organ donation.
For a variety of social, economic and historical reasons, health statistics in Cumbernauld compare relatively poorly with those in Scotland as a whole. Notably, the area has higher than desired recorded rates of Coronary Heart Disease, COPD and alcohol-related hospital stays.
Sadly, The British Transplant Games 2020, due to be held in Coventry, had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The next British Transplant Games are now scheduled to take place in Leeds from 5-8 August 2021. It is planned that The Games will return to Coventry in 2023.