29 Jun 2017

New strategy aims to boost organ donation

8:15 pm on 29 June 2017

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has launched a new strategy to lift the low rate of organ donation from people who have died.

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Health Minister Jonathan Coleman Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The minister said $500,000 would be spent under the Deceased Organ Donation Strategy to boost specialist medical and nursing organ donation capability in some ICUs.

A national agency would also be established under the strategy, although no date is set for this.

Dr Coleman said there had been a 57 percent increase in deceased organ donations in the past four years leading to a record number of transplants this year, with 181 organs from 61 deceased donors.

However, rates of 11.7 per million people were still low compared to 15.5 per million in Australia and 12 per million in the UK.

'I'm the living, breathing proof'

Auckland student Helena Lau had liver failure nine years ago and was deteriorating fast. She said she was so unwell events leading up to her liver transplant at Auckland City Hospital's renal unit, made possible because of an arrangement with Australia, were a bit of a blur.

Helena Lau

Helena Lau Photo: Supplied

"Honestly I wouldn't actually know what happened during those last couple of days, but all I know is I got very sick. They made the call to put me on the donor list and I was just very, very, very fortunate to actually get an organ so quickly.

"I knew a lot of my friends who weren't [donors] - had no idea about it - are, like, all donors now because they can see I'm the living breathing proof that it really is worth it."

Leading Auckland transplant specialist Stephen Munn said more conversations within families about deceased organ donation were crucial.

"There's a lot of pressure by some people to say that we need something like a register or we need a change in legislation to make it a requirement that people donate unless they opt out or something like that.

"The truth is that the easiest way to make this work is for it to become a common conversation in every family where other family members - the ones who are going to be, you know, overseeing the affairs of the recently deceased - know what that person wanted.

"Then they can easily communicate that to the clinical staff looking after them."

He said having a national strategy for deceased organ donation had helped Australia increase its rates and the same should happen here by connecting organ donation and transplant capacity.

Kidney Health New Zealand chief executive Max Reid said the strategy was a good one and set the right priorities.

"Ultimately what will make the difference is families knowing what their loved ones' wishes are, and intensive care units getting the training they need to have those difficult conversations and, more importantly, the resources they need to be able to manage organ donation over and above their existing capacity."

However he was not confident the extra funding would be enough, with intensive care units already working at or above capacity.

"If I was an intensive care specialist I'd find the offer of an additional $500,000 - maybe depending on which ICU you're in - pretty insulting. And it's certainly going to place the implementation at risk if that is the only kind of resource investments that is being looked at."

Dr Coleman said the strategy complemented the government's initiative to book transplants by live organ donations as well.

He said the recent Budget included $700,000 to help remove the financial deterrent to becoming a live donor.

It meant people who donated a kidney or part of a liver would be eligible for 100 percent loss-of-earnings compensation for up to 12 weeks from surgery while they recovered.

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