Case Study: DHSC's 'opt-out' organ donation consultation campaign attracts 17,000 responses

Health comms specialists have been challenged to encourage people to open up about a subject many are unwilling to face - whether or not to donate their organs, or those of their loved ones, after their death.

DHSC targeted families with campaign for consultation on organ donor opt-in
DHSC targeted families with campaign for consultation on organ donor opt-in

Concern over the shortage of organs available for transplant has prompted the government to propose a radical new approach.

Under proposals announced last December, the law will be changed so that people will be presumed to have consented to their organs being used unless they have made it clear that they do not want this to happen.

The three-month consultation, which ended in March, was supported by a major campaign mounted by the comms team at the Department for Health and Social Care. 

Its purpose was to communicate why a consultation into changing the organ-donation system in England to 'opt-out' was being held and encourage people to provide their views.

The key messages included there being a "fatal reluctance" to talk about organ donation with relatives, and that, while 80 per cent of people say they would be willing to donate their organs, only 36 per cent actually register to become a donor.

Other messages included getting across the point that the government is having an open conversation about opt-out organ donation and want as many people as possible to have their say.

The campaign highlighted the fact that every day three people die for want of a transplant, and that only six per cent of organ donors are black or Asian – meaning that BAME patients are waiting six months longer for a suitable kidney transplant than their white counterparts.

Key audiences were BAME communities, religious groups and parents and families. The Government comms team adopted a zero- to low-cost, multichannel strategy, which incorporated targeted PR with a focus on BAME and consumer media, as well as digital comms, use of social-media channels and community outreach and events.

The campaign generated more than 100 million opportunities to see or hear about the consultation, to which there were more than 17,000 responses – including 1,738 from BAME audiences.

Rachel Carr, director of comms at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: "Our aim was to support the development of a new policy through a major public consultation – [aimed] at the people we most needed to hear from. This campaign will help to ensure any changes in the law aptly reflect the views of modern society and will ultimately contribute to saving the lives of the 6,000 people in need of an organ transplant today."

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