RCN backs opt-out organ donor system for England but says more specialist nurses are needed

Max's Law presumed consent organ donor system wins RCN's support

Max's Law presumed consent organ donor system wins RCN's support

England could adopt the same opt-out approach as Wales
Picture: Paul Cousans

The RCN has welcomed plans to introduce an opt-out organ donation system for England.

But the college said an increase in organ and tissue donation will increase the need for specialist nurses.

The college was responding to an announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care that it plans to introduce an opt-out system for organ and tissue donation in England in 2020.

The so-called Max’s Law will shift the presumption in favour of donation – with an opt-out for those who do not wish to donate. It is named after 10-year-old heart transplant recipient Max Johnson.

The current system limits donation to those who gave permission, either by joining the NHS organ donation register or by informing a family member of their wish to donate. 

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said nurses welcomed the change, as shown by the results of the college's own consultation on the issue.

‘Nursing staff support moving to a soft opt-out system for organ donation,’ she said.

‘To enable the predicted increase in organs for donation the government must provide increased financial investment into this vital workforce'

Janet Davies

However, Ms Davies said: ‘To enable the predicted increase in organs for donation, the government must provide increased financial investment into this vital workforce.’

Exclusions and terms

Under the proposed law, people under 18 years old, adults who lack mental capacity and those who have not lived in England for at least 12 months will be excluded from the opt-in system.


people are estimated to be on the organ transplant waiting list in England

People with religious or cultural beliefs that preclude organ and tissue donation will be able to opt-out through the donor register.

NHS staff will also receive training to increase awareness of religious traditions in relation to organ donation.

The DH announcement follows a public consultation which had 17,000 responses.

Saving more lives

Mental health and inequalities minister Jackie Doyle-Price, said the change in law would save lives.

‘We believe by making these changes we can save as many as 700 more lives every year,’ she said.

‘But organ donation remains a gift. I want to encourage people who wish to give life, in the event of their death, to record their wishes and discuss it with their family.’

The DH estimates three people die every day waiting for an organ transplant in England, with 5,100 people on the waiting list.

The legislation for the soft opt-out donation system was put before parliament last month and is expected to return to the House of Commons this autumn.

Wales already has a soft opt-out organ and tissue donation system. Scotland and now England are looking to introduce one, making Northern Ireland the only part of the UK not to move towards a system of presumed consent.

Further information

New approach to organ donation: Government response to public consultation

NHS Organ Donation Register

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