UK Transplant finds an extra million donors

At any one time, more than 8,000 people need an organ transplant, but fewer than 3,000 transplants are carried out in the UK each year.

Research by UK Transplant suggested that 90 per cent of people in the UK support organ donation – but as of October 2004, only 19 per cent of the adult population had signed up to the NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR).

A further investigation, into the causes of deaths in intensive care units, showed that 42 per cent of people refused permission for relatives’ organs to be donated. The main reason for this decision was that the deceased had never discussed their wishes.

To encourage one million people to sign up to the ODR in its tenth anniversary year. To encourage discussion about organ donation/transplantation.

Strategy and Plan
UK Transplant felt that more lives could be saved if people discussed organ donation with their family and registered their wishes on the ODR. From experience, it also knew that the media – particularly local press – lapped up stories about patients whose lives had been saved through an organ transplant.

UK Transplant commissioned Harrison Cowley – on a budget of less than £1m – to publicise the tenth anniversary (on 6 October 2004) nationally and regionally, as well as implement a year-long campaign. The target audience included potential donors, patients, media and opinion formers.

To mark the beginning of the national campaign in London’s Trafalgar Square, 600 people (wearing red, blue and white bodysuits) were choreographed into a number 10  within a giant red heart. Photographers were lifted on a 100ft crane to take aerial pictures, while a helicopter with a TV crew hovered overhead. Similar regional activity took place in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Leeds, Newcastle and Portsmouth.

Throughout the remainder of the 12-month campaign, HC was keen to retain a human-interest angle. The UK’s longest-surviving recipients of kidney, heart and liver transplants were persuaded to give interviews, while new contacts were developed with the families of donors, patients on waiting lists and transplant recipients.

Measurement and Evaluation
More than 580 articles appeared in national and regional press, with the messages of ‘sign up’ and ‘talk about it’ frequently mentioned. Most of the major news broadcasters featured the Trafalgar Square photocall. As well as 40 mentions on the radio, the campaign also featured on GMTV and BBC Breakfast. It was the subject of an hour-long show with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine. 

According to HC, hits on jumped to 380,580 on the day after the Trafalgar Square event (nearly 12 times the previous day’s total), while the Organ Donor Line received 1,683 calls (20 times higher than the normal rate).

The ‘One million challenge’ was achieved three weeks ahead of schedule, and exceeded the target (1,242,948 more people had signed up to the ODR by September 2005). The proportion of families refusing permission for donation fell slightly to 40 per cent.

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