As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate following the Second Reading of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. During her speech, Sharon highlighted the need for more people to be on the Organ Donation Register and encouraged families to speak about organ donation.
You can read the full debate here: Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for securing this very important debate, for introducing this very important Bill and for his powerful and moving opening speech. I would also like to thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Hendon (Dr Offord), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for their excellent speeches.
In particular, I pay huge tribute to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott). She spoke so bravely and movingly about her daughter Rebecca, who as we heard has been on dialysis for a year awaiting a kidney transplant. I hope from the bottom of my heart—I am sure we all do—that her wait is over very soon and she is successful in receiving that gift of life from a wonderful donor.
This has been an excellent debate and an example of this House at its best, as it often is on Fridays during debates on private Members’ Bills. I would like to thank hon. Members who have previously brought this issue to our attention over the past decade or so, including my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis).
I commend the Daily Mirror for its fantastic campaign to raise awareness of organ donation since the case of Max Johnson, who we have all heard so much about this morning. He was then a nine-year-old boy in need of a new heart. I understand he is now 10, which is fantastic. I want to thank the hon. Member for North Devon for telling us all about Keira Ball, Max’s donor, who I understand saved four lives. I thank her very, very brave family for taking that brave decision on that most awful of days. I also thank the more than 13,000 people who have now signed the Change.org petition.
I also commend the scriptwriters of “Coronation Street”—of which, it has to be said, I am a huge fan as a northerner—for covering this issue so well. I note that the character Carla Connor this week received a kidney from her half-brother and that all is going well. At their best, soaps can play a huge part in helping to inform the public on such issues. I hope the storyline will touch on the importance of being on the organ donation register. Finally, I pay tribute to the thousands of people who have already participated in the Government’s public consultation on organ donation. I encourage others to do so, if they have not done so already, to let their voices be heard.
The topic of organ donation is understandably an emotional one, but I am pleased that so many people are now engaging in this debate and that we have the opportunity to discuss it in the House today. This debate and the publicity around it may encourage families up and down the country to have that important discussion about organ donation before the inevitable happens. There is no doubt that these discussions need to be had and that we need more organ donors in England. Almost 25 million people are on the organ donation register, but according to the NHS blood and transplant service, 7,000 people are waiting on the list for new organs. For them, it really is a life or death situation, so it is important that as many people as possible sign up to the organ donation register.
Over the past five years, almost 5 million people have joined the register, and in 2016-17 we saw the highest ever deceased donor rates in England. More than 50,000 people are living with a functioning transplant—Max is one of them—thanks to organ donation and transplantation in the UK. These are welcome developments, but we still have a long way to go. We currently lag behind other western countries. Tragically, around 1,000 people die every year—that is three a day—while waiting for a transplant. To save those lives, we need more people on the organ donation register making those decisions with their family’s knowledge, so that when the time comes, more lives can be saved.
Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend makes an excellent case by citing statistics in England, but this is a cross-border issue as well. A great strength of our national health service is that no matter what part of the UK someone comes from, they can benefit from an organ transplant. If someone in Dumfries needs a kidney donation and the donor is from Carlisle, there will be no barrier or border on the route to getting access to that transplant. That is why MPs from all parts of the UK should support organ donation changes in all parts of the UK. That includes the Scottish National party; it is just a shame that SNP Members are not here today. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Yes, and I had not noticed that nobody from the Scottish National party is here. I do not know what the situation is in Scotland, but we still want people there to be organ donors. I am sure that Rebecca, the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, would not refuse a kidney, whether from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or anywhere, so that is a very good point.
Will my hon. Friend recognise the great strides that the Labour party in Scotland has made in trying to bring in legislation on opt-out organ donation there? It is unfortunate that the Scottish National party blocked the progress of a Bill from Anne McTaggart MSP in the last session of the Parliament, but there is still hope, because a private Member’s Bill is progressing through the Scottish Parliament. We hope to have Labour and cross-party support to see such legislation progress in Scotland, as well as in Wales and England.
Excellent. I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for updating us all on the situation in Scotland because, as I said, I was not aware of it. I commend that Bill and hope that our SNP friends up in Scotland will act on and progress it as soon as possible.
Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab):
I pay tribute to colleagues in Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) and colleagues from across the country. We heard very moving stories from colleagues from North Devon and other parts. We as a House have demonstrated the ability to work together today, and that is so important. One of the great strengths of the debate has been the way that we have focused on families and listened to their stories. For me, that has been a deeply moving experience. I commend to colleagues the importance of continuing to listen to families as the campaign goes forward.
Families are at the heart of this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West, who is promoting the Bill, made clear, and I am sure that the Minister will as well. It is important that families’ voices are taken into consideration when these discussions take place.
I know that I am not alone in this House in carrying a donor card and being on the register. Like many other organ donors, I signed myself up because of a direct family experience. My Aunty Ella, who is sadly no longer with us, was one of the first patients to receive a kidney transplant at the fantastic Freeman Hospital in Newcastle way back in 1967. It was pioneering surgery back then, and it is great to hear my fellow Sunderland MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, also commending the work of the fantastic renal team at the Freeman Hospital who are currently treating and supporting her daughter Rebecca so well. My Aunty Ella lived a full life because of her transplant. In those days, it was perhaps not as long as she would have liked, but she was able to see her children Norman and Stephen —my cousins—grow up to get married. All she wanted to do was to see them grow up, but she lived on to see them give her grandchildren. That is what organ donation is all about: it gives people a future. Just one donor can save up to nine people—as we heard, Keira Ball saved four—and it can give those nine people a future with their loved ones, which is why it is so important.
Of course, there are some concerns among some religious communities. We heard about that earlier from the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, has met representatives of one particular Jewish community to discuss their concerns. There are also concerns among black and minority-ethnic communities, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). Although they are more susceptible to illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease, only 35% of black and Asian people in the UK—where the population average is 63%—agreed to organ donation last year.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab):
The same applies to stem cell transplants, which I raised earlier. It simply is not acceptable that those who happen to be white probably have an 80% to 90% chance of finding a possible match, whereas for those who come from a certain ethnic background the figure could be as low as 30%. I do not think we would accept that in any other walk of life.
My hon. Friend has made exactly the right point. This does not apply only to, for instance, kidney and heart transplants; it applies to the whole donor register. The Government must listen to the concerns of black and Asian communities, not just during the consultation but beyond, so that we can develop a solution to this problem.
Eleanor Smith (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab):
I hope that the Bill succeeds and that there will be consultation with members of the BME community to ensure the successful delivery of a public education programme to increase awareness.
That is precisely the point. It is a question of education and public awareness as well as the acceptance of the sensitivities that exist among all people, not just members of particular religious or ethnic-minority communities.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Southall) (Lab):
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend while she is making such a strong point. One of my constituents rang me after my speech to suggest first that Members of Parliament could run roadshows, along with members of their local voluntary sectors, to raise awareness and to encourage people to register as donors and secondly that we could encourage the local education system to enable schools and parents’ associations to run awareness sessions. Would that not be the best way of both raising awareness and engaging with communities?
Absolutely. I think that schools are an ideal forum for a number of public health awareness messages on a host of issues to be delivered to young people.
Perhaps the solution to all these concerns has been developed in the two countries where the opt-out system is working well, Wales and Spain. In Wales, the system came into force in 2015. The law sets out that those who live and die there will be deemed to have given consent for their organs to be used unless they have explicitly said otherwise. Before that change in the law came into effect, a public awareness campaign alone resulted in an increase in the number of organs transplanted from 120 to 160. That was not huge, but it was a definite start. NHS organ donation statistics show an 11.8% increase between 2014-15 and 2016-17 in the number of people in Wales opting to donate their organs. That was the highest increase among England, Wales and Scotland. Although there has not been a notable change since the law came into effect, it is worth remembering that—as we heard earlier—Spain took almost 10 years to increase organ donation rates significantly.
Spain has had a soft opt-out system for 39 years. It is considered to be the world leader in organ donation and currently has the highest organ donation rates in the world. In Spain, consent is presumed in the absence of any known objection by the deceased, but family consent is still sought, as it would be here, we hope. In the immediate aftermath of this change in law, there was only a small increase in the number of organ donations and transplants, but there was a dramatic increase after 1989, when the Spanish Government made a big push to reorganise organ donation, as a result of which there was a medically trained transplant co-ordinator in every hospital by 1999.
It is unlikely that we here in the UK will have an identical opt-out system to Spain’s, but these are just two examples showing how an opt-out system can work and improve the lives of thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant. This also gives us the opportunity to learn from past experiences, to ensure we get it right in this country, which I am sure we all seek to do. I know the Government will be working to ensure that that is what happens, and the Opposition are passionate about world-class health services, but, as the NHS Blood and Transplant service made clear, we
“will never have a world-class donation and transplantation service if more than 4 out of every 10 families say no to donation.”
Some 90% of people surveyed by the British Heart Foundation say they support organ donation, but just 33% of those surveyed are on the NHS organ donor register. It is clear from what we have heard today that more people need to be on the organ donor register, and these difficult conversations must be encouraged, so that more lives can be saved.
Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab):
During this debate, I went on to my phone and signed up as a full organ donor. Previously, I was a bit squeamish about giving my eyes, but I have been convinced by the arguments. Signing up only took two minutes; it was simple to do, and every Member could be encouraging our constituents to do so, too, by just going on to their phone and registering now, so we can get more donors before this Bill becomes law.
That would be great. Even the most technophobe of us should be able to manage doing that if it takes only two minutes, and maybe there could be one of those clever apps to make it even easier for all the young people to do this.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab):
I have no knowledge of apps, but I do have my donor card here, held proudly in my hand, which I got by telephoning. When I introduced my Bill on this subject many years ago, I was accused, as were the supporters—including Dr Evan Harris, who brought in the Bill with me—of being Aztecs. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tide is now flowing in our favour and this is a piece of legislation whose need has been proven, but whose time is now?
Yes, very good, and I must apologise for not commending my hon. Friend on his Bill when I listed the people who had done work on this over the years. That makes us realise how many people have been pushing for this, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West is successful today, his great achievement will be following in many other Members’ footsteps.
Whether it is clever people with their apps or people carrying the old-fashioned donor card, we in the Opposition and nearly all of us, or perhaps all of us unanimously, across the House this morning are in favour of a change to the organ donation law, to ensure that everybody whose life could be saved by organ transplant can have the gift of life. I therefore urge the Minister today to take the necessary steps to increase the number of people on the organ donor register, and I am sure this Bill will be a great asset in helping her to achieve that goal.