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Opt-out law alone ‘won’t be enough’ to increase donation — Minister

Introducing an opt-out law on organ donation on its own “won’t be enough” to increase donation levels, Minister for Health Simon Harris has told the Medical Independent (MI).

Responding to a question from MI on the need to increase specialist staffing, considered by many experts as a key element of enhancing donation rates, Minister Harris said “if we just change the law on its own, it won’t be enough”.

Minister Harris, speaking to media on 26 March at the launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week (30 March-6 April), said “we have to obviously increase public awareness and we have to continue to increase our staffing levels right across our hospitals that are providing transplants”.

The Minister said he had been speaking with Prof Jim Egan, Director of HSE Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland (ODTI), about “what more we need to do this year and indeed next year as we prepare for the change in law and absolutely, additional staff will be a part of that”.

The opt-out provision is included in the Human Tissue Bill, which Minister Harris said he is bringing to cabinet this month.

In August 2017, the clinical leads and nurse managers in organ donation expressed their concern over low specialist staffing levels in organ donation in a submission to the Department on the Bill. 

They also stated that an opt-out system was not an important component of increasing donation rates.

Prof Egan of ODTI has supported the proposed law but considers specialist staffing and infrastructure as the most important aspects of increasing donation. Speaking to MI, he said increasing the number of specialist nurses in organ donation would be the first priority in terms of bolstering specialist staffing. “We have six; we are looking to double that in the short term, then hopefully grow from there.”

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