Organ donation: As a consultant in critical care who has had transplants, I hope the opt-out system will lead to a change in attitude – Dr Radha Sundaram

Organ donations save lives (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

As a critical care consultant – and clinical lead in organ donation with NHS Blood and Transplant Scotland – it has given me hope that more people than ever before will receive the organ transplants they desperately need, and that many lives will be saved.

It’s still too early to tell what impact the new legislation has had in terms of actual data and whether it has resulted in a tangible increase in deceased donations – but personally, I’m seeing more and more conversations about organ donation mentioned by families during end-of-life situations in intensive care units.

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The pandemic has undeniably had an impact on the number of donations and transplants, but teams across Scotland are working tirelessly to facilitate these lifesaving and enhancement operations where safely possible.

It’s never easy when someone you love dies, but many families said they were very reassured to know that others have benefited from their loss and that they are honoring the wishes of their loved ones.

Without organ donation, I would not be the doctor I am today: a few years ago, my eyesight began to decline. Within a few months, I was told that my eyesight would gradually decline if I did not receive a corneal transplant. I couldn’t contemplate the thought of not being able to see – and while for me it wasn’t a life or death situation, it would have completely changed my life.

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In 2015, thanks to the generosity of two extremely courageous families, I received my sight-saving transplants – to this day, I owe them so much; I can live my life as before, continue to drive, work in intensive care, help others and do the job that I love so much.

I see the need for organ donation day in and day out – the statistics are sobering: every day three people in the UK die while waiting for a life-saving transplant. You are five times more likely to need a transplant than to be able to donate, and only one percent of people die in circumstances where they are able to donate their organs.

A third of patients on transplant waiting lists are from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities – but before the legislation came into effect, less than seven per cent of people on the organ donation register belonged to these communities, which is why now, more than ever, conversations about giving are so vital.

Including a section on faith in the organ donor registry ensures health care providers have the right information about what matters to the patient at the end of life.

As this legislation enters its first year, I want to see organ donation become the norm, with everyone having discussions with family and loved ones about their wishes, and a more positive attitude towards donation within society.

I want to harness a sense of collaboration, forge new relationships, and provide a deeper understanding of the perspectives and needs of our ethnically diverse society to continue saving lives and providing hope.

Dr Radha Sundaram, BMA Scotland

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