PRICE OF A LIFE: GWH tackling the sensitive subject of organ donation
Buy this photo » Specialist Nurse Allison Salmon and Dr Malcolm Watters
This week we are running a series of features on organ donation and how they can change the lives of people who have transplants. Today, KATIE BOND talks to hospital staff who have a very difficult job
ORGAN donation can be a sensitive subject to broach but the more we talk about it, the more lives could be saved.
Back in 2009, Great Western Hospital along with hospitals across the country revamped the way it approached patients and families about organ donation.
It came after a Department of Health study revealed the number of people requiring a transplant had risen while the number of those on the donor register was very low.
Dr Malcolm Watters became the clinical lead for organ donation at GWH four years ago, while Allison Salmon was appointed specialist nurse in organ donation to oversee training staff in the importance of approaching families about organ donation.
Since then, organ donation nationally has increased 50 per cent.
“It is a sensitive issue,” said Dr Watters.
“We approach families when patients have been in the Intensive Care Unit for a long time and there is no hope for a meaningful recovery and it is in the best interest to withdraw treatment.
“We talk to the families and we offer them the option of organ donation.
“The timing is the most important thing. It would be inappropriate to approach the subject before the family has accepted that their loved one has passed or there is nothing else that can be done for them – obviously our first priority is always to make sure we give them every chance of making a recovery, we don’t talk about donation until all the options have been exhausted.”
Last year, GWH harvested organs from approximately 10 donors who died at the hospital.
Allison said that despite it being a somewhat taboo subject for many, having the conversation with your loved ones can make the decision a little less difficult when the time does eventually come.
“You find yourself in very sad situations but you do also see the flip side and how the recipients’ lives are transformed by the gift,” she said.
“It is a difficult job but you get a lot of families who say they are happy for their loved ones’ organs to be donated and they want to do anything they can to help somebody else.
“But they just hadn’t even thought about it or discussed it among themselves.
“Sometimes they are surprised – not angry or shocked – that we approach them. They need to make the right choices for them and their loved ones, we don’t rush them, we give them as much time as they need.
“A lot of the time, the patients can be in ICU for a long time, so we get to know the families and we have time to sit and talk to them about their wishes, whereas a bedside nurse wouldn’t always have the time.
“Sometimes we even get families that approach us first which is very positive, often they have discussed it with their loved one which makes the decision a lot easier.”
Dr Watters added: “Having the conversation is the most important thing.
“A lot of the time people have told their family members that they want to donate their organs but they haven’t actually signed the register, so that can make things a bit easier – the conversation is the most important thing.
“We know it is a very difficult time to ask the question.
“But what we do know is that for the families that say no to organ donation, one in three will go on to regret that decision – it is such an emotionally charged time so we have to be prepared so that we can help support the family.”
35 PATIENTS ON TRANSPLANT LIST
THIRTY-FIVE people in Swindon are currently on the transplant waiting list, according to new figures released by Great Western Hospital.
A total of 25 of these are active, and 10 are suspended – which means the patient has been temporarily removed from the list because they may be too ill to undergo the operation or are away on holiday.
Twenty-eight people are waiting for a kidney, while two people are waiting for a pancreas. Just one person is waiting for a heart.
As of February 22, there were 97,477 people residing in the Swindon postcode area on the UK Organ Donor Register.
In 2009/10 there were three deaths on the organ transplant list, one in 2010/11 and four in 2011/12 – all of these were patients waiting for a kidney or a liver.
The number of transplants carried out at the GWH in 2012/13 stands at 31, compared to just 21 in 2008/09. These figures include cornea and sclera transplants, as well as organs taken from live and deceased patients. The most organs donated were kidneys.
The number of transplants at the GWH peaked in 2010/11, when 38 were carried out, including 13 corneas, 18 kidneys and four livers.