The national launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week 2019, by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, T.D., was held at the Mansion House Dublin 2 on Tuesday, 26th March. The annual campaign which takes place from 30th March until 6th April is organised by the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) and supported by the Organ Donation Transplant Ireland (ODTI).

The focus of Organ Donor Awareness Week is to remind individuals to talk to their families about their organ donation wishes and keep the reminders of their decision available by carrying the organ donor card permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence and having the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP on their smartphone.

The Week also serves as the key annual fundraiser for the IKA as volunteers sell their forget-me-not flower emblem and other merchandise with proceeds going to supporting services to kidney patients and their families. Ray D’Arcy has taken up the voluntary role of Ambassador for Organ Donor Awareness 2019 and also attended the National Launch. He will feature on posters and in a radio advertising campaign encouraging the public to let their loved ones know their wishes.

At the campaign’s national launch Mr. Mark Murphy, Chief Executive of the Irish Kidney Association said, “we must never forget the selfless generosity of the families of deceased donors and it is thanks to 81 donors in 2018 that 234 organ transplants took place. An additional 40 living donor kidney transplants took place at Beaumont Hospital and there was a further three HSE funded kidney transplants in the UK through the Paired Kidney Exchange Programme.”

Mr. Murphy stated that, “following on from 2017, which was a record year, that 2018 was a mostly average year for organ donation and for transplantation including heart, lung, liver and kidney transplantation”.

In 2018, the 81 deceased donors led to 56 liver transplants and 5 pancreas being carried out at St. Vincent’s University Hospital. The Mater Hospital carried out 18 heart transplants as well as 28 lung transplants. A total of 167 kidney transplants were carried out at Beaumont Hospital including 40 living donor kidney transplants.

The number of people on transplant waiting pools for all organs including kidney, heart, lung, liver and pancreas is approximately 550. Thanks to the gift of organ donation almost 4,000 transplanted people in Ireland are enjoying extended life.

Mr. Murphy asserted, “for the first time in ten years the number of living donor kidney transplants did not break any records with 40 taking place in 2018 which was 10 less than in 2017, a record year.”

Mr. Murphy said, “surely it is now time for Ireland to follow our neighbours in the UK and start accepting the offers from the public for Altruistic Kidney Donation as we try to keep pace with increasing numbers of dialysis patients”.  He also called for fully trained organ donor nurses in our intensive care units, the introduction of a positive opt-in registry for consent to organ donation and a potential donor audit in the ICU’s”.

“We know from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) data, that since the new format driving licence was introduced six years ago in January 2013, a total of 915,000, representing 25% of the adult population have opted to tick the box on the driver’s licence application form question about organ donation.”

“As the Minister has already proposed the introduction of an Opt Out registry, it would be a huge missed opportunity not to utilise the existing record of people who do wish to be organ donors.  A Yes Registry would not only encourage family conversation, but there would be a formal record of a loved one’s wishes. It would make the decision easier for the grieving family from whose consent for organ donation is sought.”

“While there is a need for an audit of donor activity in our Intensive Care Units, we only have to look to the UK 2017-2018 audit data to see how consent levels increase when both fully trained Nurse Specialists in organ donation and an organ donor registry are in place. Only 22% of families consented when no special nurse is involved in the formal organ donation discussion with family. There is an increase to 52% when a specialist nurse is involved but the potential donor is not signed up to the organ donor registry. When both a specialist trained nurse and an official record of consent is in place the family consent for organ donation rises significantly to a 92% conversion rate from potential donor to actual donor.”

“In total there were 2,124 patients receiving dialysis treatment in 2018 representing an increase of 50 extra dialysis patients when compared with 2,074 patients in 2017.”

Also speaking at the launch was Prof Jim Egan, Director HSE, Organ Donation Transplant Ireland who said that, “It is because of the generosity of the Irish public that patients can receive a life-saving organ transplant. Our message is simple:  Organ Donation Saves Lives.”

In support of the Organ Donor Awareness Week, An Post has just launched a stamp featuring a symbolic hourglass timer carrying the message ‘Organ Donation Saves Lives’. The stamps are available nationwide in its 950 post offices along with stocks of organ donor cards with information factfiles are also available nationwide from pharmacies and GP surgeries.

Organ Donor Cards can also be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.