Speech by Mr Micheál Martin, Minister for Health and Children, at the launch of the 2003 Organ Donor Awareness Week

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I would like to thank the Irish Kidney Association for inviting me, on behalf of the Irish Donor Network, to launch the 2003 Organ Donor Awareness Week. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to speak to you all.

The annual Donor Awareness Campaign is a very important event in the calendar for the Irish Health Service. The campaign highlights the need for organ donors generally and, as such, it makes a very important contribution to the National Health Strategy´s commitment to develop organ transplantation services with a view to increasing donation and utilisation rates.

Progress has been made towards the establishment of an Organ Transplant Review Group to achieve this objective. Officials from my Department recently met with representatives of the Irish Donor Network Group to hear their views on the issues that might be addressed by the Review Group. My Department has also commenced a series of meetings in this context with the clinical personnel from the various national Transplant Programmes.

The Donor Awareness campaign also clearly highlights the important contribution of the voluntary sector in the area of donor recruitment. The proactive role taken by the Donor Network in this area is appreciated and is, I understand, very much admired in the international arena.

It is encouraging to note that the number of organ donors in Ireland increased by over 12% in 2002. According to statistics provided by the Organ Procurement Service at Beaumont Hospital the number of transplants carried out in 2002 increased on the previous year. 144 people received kidney transplants as compared with 123 in 2001. The number of heart transplants increased from 11 in 2001 to 16 in 2002 while the number of liver transplants increased by 3 to 38 over the same period.

I would like to acknowledge the generosity of the families of those donors for making the decision to help others at a very difficult time. I would also like to pay tribute to the clinical personnel involved in providing organ transplant services. Organ Donor Awareness Week, also known as Forget-Me-Not Week, will run this year from the 29th of March to the 5th of April. During this week, volunteers will be working extremely hard both in fund-raising and in promoting the carrying of a donor card. The Forget-Me-Not emblem and the donor card key ring will be on sale all over the country, and I expect that the efforts of the volunteers will be rewarded, as usual, with a generous response.

My Department has been pleased to support Donor Awareness Week in previous years, and I am delighted to be able to confirm, today, continuing support for this year´s campaign by announcing the provision of a grant of €300,000.

This year will see a further significant development in the provision of organ transplant services in Ireland with the establishment of the Lung Transplant Programme at the Mater Hospital. Clearly, one of the significant factors that will impact on the success of this Programme, and indeed the continuing development of the existing programmes, will be the availability of suitable organs. Considerable preparatory work for the Lung Transplant Programme has already been completed, including the provision of appropriate assessment facilities and the appointment of key transplant personnel. Revenue funding of €7.9m has been provided in the current year to support the commencement of the Programme.

Before I finish I would like to congratulate the Irish Kidney Association, in this its 25th Anniversary year for all the work it has done over the years to improve services for kidney patients and their families.

It only remains for me to wish the 2003 Donor Awareness Campaign every success in encouraging people to “Give the Gift of Life”.

Thank you.