New figures show parents are significantly less likely to donate their child’s organs for lifesaving transplants, which limits the number of organs available for children on the transplant waiting list.
The statistics, released by NHS Blood and Transplant for Organ Donation Week, shows only 48% of families supported donation for a relative aged 17 and under last year. That compares to an average of 66% families agreeing for relatives of all ages. The figures have also remained largely static, despite the overall increase in organ donation.
In Lincolnshire, over the past decade, 27 children aged 17 and under have waited for a transplant.
In the same period, 10 children aged 17 and under have become solid organ donors in the county.
Angie Scales, NHS Blood and Transplant Lead Nurse for Paediatric Donation, said: “For many children on the transplant waiting list in Lincolnshire, their only hope is the parent of another child saying ‘yes’ to organ donation at a time of terrible personal grief.
“Organ donation can offer comfort to the families of donors through the knowledge that something remarkable came from their loss. There are many children alive today thanks to parents in Lincolnshire making the decision to donate when saying goodbye to their own child.
“Words save lives and we’d ask families this Organ Donation Week to talk about whether they’d want to save lives through organ donation if the unthinkable happened. We know that many children respond positively to the idea of organ donation so please talk about this important and lifesaving subject.”
For some children on the waiting list, a young donor is their only hope. Hearts and lungs in particular need to be matched by size because of the limited space inside the chest, and also to ensure the two organs have comparable strength and do not overwhelm or under-power each other.
Nationally, the shortage of suitable donors means children waiting for an urgent heart transplant will wait two and half times as long as adults waiting on the urgent waiting list.
In the last three years, 46 children have died on the transplant waiting list. Of these, 30 were waiting for a heart or lung transplant.
Currently, children can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, although those with parental responsibility must give consent for donation after they die. Children in Scotland can self-authorise from 12 years of age. Parents can also choose to add their children to the NHS organ Donor Register at any age.
The overall number of young donors is remaining relatively static at a time when the number of adult organ donors is quickly rising. There were 57 donors aged 17 and under last year, compared to 55 in 2013/14. During the same period, the overall number of deceased organ donors rose by 20%.
Dr Simon Steel, Consultant in Paediatric Intensive Care Anaesthesia at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Looking after children comes with its own set of unique considerations and challenges. The death of a child will have a profound impact on the child’s family and upon all the professionals involved in that child’s care.
“I see how devastating it is losing a child, but I also know the profound comfort that a child donors family can take in knowing that they have helped save the lives of others.
“Every family of a child who is approaching the end of life, and has the potential to donate organs or tissues after death, has the right to be offered this choice.”
More than 25 million people are already on the NHS Organ Donor Register - you can join them today by visiting www.organdonation.nhs.uk.