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Health Minister launches consultation on statutory opt-out for organ donation

Health Minister Robin Swann has urged people to talk to their loved ones about organ donation as he launched a consultation on an opt-out system.

The purpose of the consultation is to seek the views of the public view on how to introduce a soft opt-out organ donation system for Northern Ireland. This would require new legislation to change the current system here, from opt-in to opt-out.

Making the announcement today, Minister Swann said: “Whilst over 80% of the population supports organ donation, only 48% have recorded this decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

“This means that the NHS Organ Donor Register is not truly representative of Northern Ireland’s population’s willingness to donate their organs and tissue after their death.

“On Organ Donation Discussion Day, I would urge everyone to have the conversation about donation with their families and friends and let your loved ones know how you feel about this vitally important issue. I would also encourage responses to the consultation to inform the proposed change in legislation.”

One donor has the potential to save up to nine lives, and in 2019/20 in Northern Ireland there were 51 deceased donors and 89 life-saving and life transforming transplants from deceased donors for Northern Ireland residents.  However there are still 115 people in Northern Ireland on the waiting list and last year 11 people in Northern Ireland died while awaiting an organ transplant.

Currently in Northern Ireland donation will only ever proceed if a person had given their express consent for organ donation, usually by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register and/or speaking to their family. In the absence of this, the family is asked to make a decision on behalf of the patient.

Under the proposed opt-out legislation, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out. The family would continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs. This will not change.

Knowing first-hand the agony of life on the waiting list for a life-saving transplant, is Máirtín Mac Gabhann, father of four year old heart patient Dáithí, who has campaigned for the change in legislation. Máirtín made this appeal to the public:

“Dáithí was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant in June 2018 and has remained on it since. I would urge everyone to have their say in the consultation, but most importantly, sign the Organ Donor Register and let your loved ones know your wishes.  You never know when the need for an organ transplant might arrive at your door.”

The consultation will run for 10 weeks, closing on 19 February 2021.

Everyone is encouraged to read about the consultation and submit a response at:


Since the introduction of the opt-out system in Wales in 2015 and the corresponding information campaigns, there has been an increase in both consent rate and donation rate. The consent rate increased from 58% in 2015 to 70.7% in 2020, although the impact was not immediate and took several years to take effect.  In England, a new opt-out system came into effect from 20 May 2020. Scotland’s opt-out system will come into effect from 26 March 2021. The Irish Government has previously indicated an intention to consider the introduction of a soft opt-out system. 

Organ donation:

It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Call 0300 123 23 23 or visit:


Families are always involved in organ donation discussions. You can make things easier for your family by telling them you want to donate.

Every day across the UK someone dies waiting for an organ transplant.

Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, age and medical conditions are not necessarily a barrier to donation.

One donor can save or transform up to nine lives through organ donation and save and transform even more by donating tissue.

The soft opt-out system will mean:

  • If you want to be a donor, you can register to be a donor (opt in) on the NHS Organ Donor Register and inform those close to you of this decision.

  •  If you don’t record a decision to be a donor or let those close to you know your donation decision, you will be considered as having no objection to becoming a donor. This is called deemed consent.

  • If you do not want to be a donor, you can register not to be a donor (opt out) on the NHS Organ Donor Register

  • You can also nominate a representative to make the decision for you after your death.

More information on organ donation be found at www.organdonationni.info