Minister Reilly speech at the launch of the HSE’s National Organ Donation and Transplantation Office’s Annual Report 2013

Last year was a record year for organ transplantation with 294 transplants performed as a result of the generosity of 86 deceased donors and 38 living donors. It was a particularly good year for lung transplants with 32 such transplants being performed – more than twice the total for any previous year.

I would like pay particular tribute to the families of all the 86 deceased donors and to the 38 living kidney donors.

I would also like to extend a special thanks to Prof Jim Egan and his colleagues in the National Organ Donation and Transplantation Office for all the work they do in this vital area and for inviting me to launch their Annual Report for 2013.

While the past year was undoubtedly encouraging, I realise that there is still a long way to go. Successful transplantation depends on a number of factors but obviously securing donations is the vital first step in that process and I believe we must make every effort possible to consolidate the significant progress already made.

I want to see a further improvement in organ donation and transplantation rates in 2014.

It is in this context that I arranged for the HSE to allocate an additional €2.9million to organ donation and transplantation in 2014.

I am confident that this extra investment will facilitate an increase in the levels of organ donation and transplantation.

It will allow for the appointment of 19 whole-time-equivalent staff dedicated to organ donation and transplantation, including consultants, organ donation nurse managers, organ procurement officers and quality officers.

These staff will comprise a key element of the organ donation effort in each of the hospital groups around the country. They will work to foster a strong culture of organ donation, optimise conversion rates and champion educational strategies and training programmes for health care professionals across each hospital group.

These key donation personnel will have a particular focus on protecting the interests of donating families throughout the donation process. We need to encourage families to allow their loved one’s organs to help provide the gift of life to another person. But we must also be aware of what an emotional and difficult decision we are asking them to make at such a distressing time. Therefore we have to do everything in our power to make that decision process as easy as possible for them both practically and emotionally. We must provide comfort, counsel and support to help them through the process.

Once donations have been received it is critically important that we have robust systems in place to match them up swiftly and effectively with potential recipients and to carry out successful transplantations.

Success can be measured in a number of ways – for example, the number of organs donated, the number of organs that are transplanted successfully, the quality and safety of the organ donation and transplantation services and the extra years enjoyed by organ recipients.

The programme for Government commits to the introduction of an opt-out system of consent for organ donation with the aim of improving the availability of organs for patients in need.

I firmly believe that the introduction of an opt-out system of consent is an integral element in changing our cultural attitude towards organ donation. We need to make organ donation the norm in Irish society so that it is the default position when people pass away in circumstances in which donation is a possibility.

My Department undertook a public consultation between July and September last year and held a consultation event last November to seek the views of the public on the practical aspects of introducing an opt-out system of consent for organ donation. A document summarising the views received is available on my Department’s website and work is ongoing to introduce the legislative proposals required to give effect to the opt-out system.

I wish to re-state my commitment to making every effort to increase the rate of organ donation and transplantation in Ireland. I am confident that the additional resources provided in 2014, along with the envisaged opt-out legislation and the additional staff that have been assigned to the HSE’s National Organ Donation and Transplantation Office, will facilitate further significant increases in Ireland’s organ donation and transplantation rates over the coming years.

As we work towards those future goals I want to conclude today by acknowledging the hard work and dedication or the people who play a major part in making those aspirations a reality – the staff in hospitals across the country and all who work in organ procurement and transplant.

• Finally, I again acknowledge the priceless gift of life given by donors, deceased and living.