11/07/2013 07:23 BST | Updated 10/09/2013 06:12 BST

Make Your Last Gift Matter

This week is National Transplant Week and I want to take this opportunity to ask everyone to sign up to donate their organs and give the gift of life.

Since taking up my post at the Department of Health I have seen, first-hand, the work done every day by doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and everyone else that makes up our great NHS, to improve and restore the health of our nation.

However sometimes a patient's fate is out of their control and in the hands of someone like me and you - an organ donor.

An organ transplant is always life changing and often life saving. Many thousands of people have generously given the greatest gift to complete strangers. That stranger could, one day, be you. It could be your partner. It could be your parent or your child.

It's a frightening thought but a reality that many people face every day. Sadder still is the fact that so many people waiting for a life changing transplant will never get one.

Anyone can register on the Organ Donor Register. Age isn't a barrier and neither are most medical conditions. In fact people in their 70s and 80s have become donors.

Only a small number of people die in circumstances where they can donate their organs - just one per cent of the half a million people who die every year. So the more people that register, the higher the chance of finding suitable organs.

One major obstacle is that not enough people know what their loved ones wishes are when they die. We know that if these issues are discussed, 90 per cent of people are happy for family member's organs to be donated. However if these wishes are unknown, family consent drops to just less than half.

It's a difficult and emotional topic to discuss but it could mean the difference between life and death for someone waiting for a suitable donor. So please, talk to your loved ones and become clear about one another's wishes.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to appeal directly to Britain's ethnic minority communities in particular as they are three times more likely to suffer from a condition that may require a kidney transplant - but they are far less likely to receive one. This is because proportionally less people from ethnic minority communities are on the organ donor register or give consent

I'm delighted that today, thanks to the work that NHS Blood and Transplant and the millions already signed up on the register, we are seeing a 50 per cent increase in organ donors and 30 per cent more organs transplanted than five years ago. But I know we can do much better.

Please register to donate your organs today and give the greatest gift - the gift of life.