This year (April 2022/ March 2023) 39 organs were donated at Frimley and Wexham Park Hospitals, irreversibly changing 39 lives.
This is a fantastic result for Frimley Health, however, more than 50 per cent of the population still have not registered their decision about donating an organ. To put this into context, although there were 3029 transplants last year nationally, there are still over 7,000 people on the transplant list. Of those who are waiting, 782 are in the South-East region, of which Frimley Health is a part, so there is still a long way to go.
So, with Organ Donation Week just around the corner (18-24 September) it’s vital that we raise awareness of this important issue in the hope that more people will register their decision at NHS Organ Donation and make their wishes known to their loved ones so that even more people can be saved.
To highlight this issue and help start conversations, we’ll be going pink!
All throughout Organ Donation Week, we will be lighting up our acute hospitals - Frimley Park and Wexham Park in pink - the colour of the Organ Donation card.
Talking organ donation with Frimley Health specialist nurse
To explain the process of organ donation, we spoke to Brooke Timms, specialist nurse organ donation, who has been based at Frimley Park Hospital for the past 18 months.
Brooke, who has been a nurse for the last 7 years has worked in various intensive care units ever since she graduated from the University of Greenwich. Her passion is helping those who are most in need on their road to recovery.
Why organ donation?
I have always worked in intensive care where organ donation is a part of all end-of- life care considerations. Working in intensive care during the Covid-19 pandemic was incredibly challenging and unfortunately many patients did not survive their admission. After the pandemic I wanted a change of direction. I have always been passionate about advocating for patients and their end of life wishes, and so becoming a specialist nurse in organ donation seemed the right path for me.
Working as part of the organ donation team is a privilege. It’s also rewarding as more than 50,000 lives have been saved through organ donation and transplantation in the UK.
Can you explain the process of organ donation
The journey of organ donation involves many people and several different organisations – though the patient and their family and friends are always front and centre.
When a patient is referred to the service as part of their end-of-life care planning, usually by the intensive care unit, our first responsibility is to access the organ donor register (ODR) to ascertain whether the patient has registered an organ donation decision in their lifetime. This is essential as we need to be aware of their wishes prior to continuing our assessment. We then work to assess the patient's organ donor potential. If they are in a position to be able to help others through organ donation, we will have a discussion with the patient’s designated next of kin, family and friends to ascertain their end of life wishes.
As a specialist nurse my role is to support those involved and to ensure the process is as safe as possible for everyone. We collect important clinical information and once this is complete, begin to look for potential organ recipients.
Once suitable recipients are found, specialist transplant retrieval teams come to the hospital to perform the organ donation operation. Once organs are retrieved, they are transported to the recipient hospitals to be transplanted - to give the precious gift of life. Wherever possible, we contact families to let them know how their loved one’s organs have been used to save lives, something we know gives them great comfort at a difficult time.
What myths would you like to debunk?
When speaking with families they often feel their loved ones would be unable to donate their organs due to certain medical conditions or age. This is untrue. While there are some conditions that mean organ donation cannot happen, in the majority of cases tissue donation, such as corneal (eye) donation can still go ahead – giving someone the life changing gift of sight.
What would you like to highlight about organ donation?
There is a profound disparity between ethnic groups, organ donation and transplantation. As of 21/22, people of Asian heritage accounted for 3% of deceased organ donors but made up 18% of those on the transplant waiting list. Similarly, those of black heritage represented 2% of deceased organ donors but made up 10% of the transplant waiting list.
Organs are more likely to be matched to someone of the same ethnic background and therefore it’s vital that we’re reaching out to all communities. In 22/23 the consent rate for those of black and Asian heritage was at 40% compared to the consent rate for white donors which was 71%.
Changes since Max & Kiera's law?
In 2019 the Government initiated the opt-out law change, meaning that everyone in England was considered to have no objections to becoming an organ donor if they had not registered an organ donation decision. Also known as Max & Kiera’s Law after Kiera who courageously donated her heart to save a young boy named Max.
Since the law change, we’ve found that people are talking more about organ donation and their end of life wishes which is great, but we need them to continue to do so. Although many are aware of the law change, it is still paramount that people register an organ donation decision. This is simple and easy to do, you can register online at: www.organdonation.nhs.uk, by calling 0300 123 23 23, picking up a leaflet or by registering on your driving license or at your GP.
Hardest and most rewarding parts of the job?
The hardest part of this role is that I see a lot of people experiencing the worst times of their lives, losing their loved ones, however it is a privilege to be able to support them. The most rewarding aspect of this job is being an advocate for the patient/donor and their families to ensure that their precious end-of-life wishes are met.