NHS plans multimillion-pound campaign to push opt-out organ donation

NHS Blood and Transplant is readying the £18m, four-year drive in support of the government's decision to change its policy on organ donation, prompted by demands by the public for the new approach to be properly communicated.

NHSBT campaign will promote rule change on organ donation and encourage people to opt in
NHSBT campaign will promote rule change on organ donation and encourage people to opt in

Details of the major campaign are contained in a series of documents released last Sunday, to coincide with the announcement of proposals for an opt-out system for organ donation to be in place by 2020 in England.

This will mean that, in contrast to the current approach, where people have to opt in to give their consent for their organs to be used after their death, individuals over 18 will be presumed to be organ donors unless they opt out.

In the government’s consultation on the changed policy, one of the questions asked was: "How can we make people more aware of the new rules on organ donation?"

Some 15,000 people responded to the question, according to the government’s response to the consultation.

It stated: "A recurring theme amongst responses was that the Government should launch a national media campaign to raise awareness and enable people to make an informed decision on organ donation."

A common request was for information to be "simple and easy to digest".

The response said that before the new law comes into effect, in Spring 2020, there will be "a 12-month communication campaign to raise awareness of the changes, with information about the different options available to record a decision before the new arrangements begin".

It added: "The Government will launch a year-long communication campaign to raise awareness – likely in the spring of 2019. This will be a comprehensive campaign using multiple channels to achieve a wide coverage across England."

An impact assessment into the policy change stated: "NHSBT has provided an initial assessment of the campaign recommended to support any change in England to raise public awareness and maximise the potential for a cultural shift in behaviour and attitudes. The estimated budget is £18m (subject to revision) over a four-year period."

Details of the campaign are yet to be announced, but it will be informed by focus group research conducted by Ipsos MORI for NHSBT, which said: "Communications and campaigns were seen as crucial under the proposed opt-out system."

It added: "Overall, participants believed that, for the launch of the opt-out system to be successful and for organ donation to increase, the Government has to conduct a thorough public information campaign."

This should focus on the new regulations, the vital need for more organs, the need to discuss organ donation with family members, and the possibility to formally opt out if they do not wish to donate their organs, according to the research report.

It stated: "Participants believed that widespread campaigns around organ donation could not only encourage clarification of organ-donation decisions but will also inspire people to share these decisions with family and friends, so that talking about organ donation becomes normalised."

Specific suggestions made by participants in the focus groups included using GPs to reach out to older people and teaching children about the new rules, "so they can become equipped to make a decision when the time comes". 

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