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Revamp planned to boost rates of organ donation

Improving the driver licence donor system is one of many proposed changes to boost New Zealand's woeful organ donation rates.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has announced public consultation on ways to increase organ donation from dead people will start on Tuesday, noting New Zealand's low rates compared to many overseas countries, including Australia.

"While we already have many of the elements of an effective organ donation and transplantation service in New Zealand, we can do better," he said.

Wellington man Michael Boyes told his sister he wanted to be an organ donor despite not having a driver licence to ...

SUPPLIED

Wellington man Michael Boyes told his sister he wanted to be an organ donor despite not having a driver licence to document his intentions. His family donated his organs when he died suddenly in February.

"A suggestion as to how we could better support the hospital team is to improve the driver licence system so medical staff are informed if someone has indicated they would like to become a donor."

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Coleman said the driver licence donor information was not routinely used by clinicians because of concerns with the lack of information about it provided when people applied for licences.

Christchurch woman Alana Taylor before the double lung transplant in July last year that saved her life.

IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch woman Alana Taylor before the double lung transplant in July last year that saved her life.

Other proposed changes included raising awareness, standardising how hospitals identified potential donors and how organ donation was discussed with families. 

The demand for transplants, particularly kidneys, continued to rise while the rate of deceased organ donation remained comparatively low, with 53 deceased donors in 2015, up from 46 in 2014 and 36 in 2013, he said.

Australia's donation rate per head of population was nearly double New Zealand's and Spain's rate was more than triple.

Long-time organ donor campaigner Andy Tookey, with his daughter, Katie, who needs a liver transplant.

KIRK HARGREAVES/THE PRESS

Long-time organ donor campaigner Andy Tookey, with his daughter, Katie, who needs a liver transplant.

The consultation document followed a Ministry of Health-led review of deceased organ donation rates and its proposals were based on international best practice, local evidence and advice from an expert advisory group.

The move was welcomed by many, including a Wellington family who donated their young son's organs after a brain aneurysm caused his death in February.

Michael Boyes was only 25 when he collapsed in the inner city in the early hours of February 14 and was rushed to Wellington Hospital, where doctors deemed him brain dead the next day.

Grieving father Craig Boyes said on Sunday he believed an organ donor register could lift donor numbers rather than relying on driver licences.

His son had been unlicensed, but had discussed the issue with one of his sisters after noticing she had ticked organ donation on her driver licence.

"He had an 18-plus ID card and he bemoaned the fact he couldn't record on it that he wanted to be a donor." 

Craig Boyes' brother, Dr Scott Boyes, an emergency department specialist in Hawke's Bay and deputy chair of the New Zealand faculty of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said he planned to join the consultation process.

"When you have a personal stake in something, that helps."

Nearly a year after the double lung transplant that saved her life, Christchurch woman Alana Taylor said she still thought about her donor and their family every day. 

"Without my donor I'd be dead. I would not be here," she said.

Taylor, who has cystic fibrosis, was told early last year she would not make it to Christmas. The transplant had "completely changed" her life. 

"There were so many things I could never do. This past summer I actually got to run into the ocean. It was the most amazing thing in my life. 

"Whenever something good happens I think I can do this because of my donor. 

"It's such a gift. Thanks to one beautiful soul I get to live."

Taylor was surprised how few people donated their organs in New Zealand and felt awareness and education would make a huge difference.

"I talk to so many people who say they had never even thought about organ donation until they met me. But once they saw how someone who was supposed to be dead was living, it made them realise how important it is. 

"Death is the hardest thing to talk about, but none of us are invincible and anything can happen. It's a conversation every family needs to have."

Long-time organ donor campaigner Andy Tookey, of Christchurch, was pleased the Government planned to consult on ways to boost organ donation, but doubted changing the driver licence donor scheme would help.

Instead, he called for the establishment of an organ donor register, similar to Australia's.

Statistics showed 93 per cent of families agreed to donate deceased loved ones' organs if they were on Australia's register, whereas only four out of 10 families agreed to donate in New Zealand, he said.

Details about making a submission are on the Ministry of Health's website.

 - Stuff



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