The NHS has added a new question to the organ donor register which enables people to decide whether to declare their religion or beliefs when they sign up.
Doctors hope this will help overcome barriers to organ donation by reassuring people that donations can go ahead in line with their faith.
This is after research found the primary reason people from black and Asian communities do not donate is because many thought it runs counter to cultures or religious groups, despite the fact organ donation is supported by all major religions and belief systems.
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for Inequalities, says: “This important update will give people the confidence that when they register a decision to donate their organs, their beliefs will always be considered.”
The new question, which is optional to answer, will ask donors whether or not they want their faith or beliefs to be discussed with their family, or anyone else they consider appropriate. This could, for example, be a faith leader.
The specialist nurse will raise this when they approach their relatives. The nurse will not be told what particular faith or beliefs the individual observes. This information will continue to be gathered through conversations with the family.
This is an important step because a patient’s best chance of an organ match will come from someone of the same ethnic background. Last year, only 42 per cent of black and Asian families agreed to donate organs, compared to 66 per cent of families from the overall population.
Yet, over a third of patients waiting for a kidney transplant are from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. One in five people who died on the transplant waiting list last year was from a BAME background.
Gurpreet Parmar’s mum, Bimla, a Sikh from west London, became an organ donor when she died of a brain haemorrhage at 68 years old.
She says: “My mum was not on the NHS Organ Donor Register, but my siblings and I were fine with it as we believed someone else should be helped by our loss. I personally had registered to be a donor a long time ago as I want to help someone else once I am gone. Mum was religious and loved by everyone. She was able to donate her lungs, kidneys and liver to four people.
“I hope more of my generation and younger educate the elders to sign up to donate and explain what their gift can mean to a family seeing their loved one struggle on a daily basis. I do hope my story will make more people sign up to donate!”
It is hoped that by making acknowledgement of faith and beliefs an integral part of the registration process for those who wish to take up this option, this new declaration will encourage more people with a strong personal faith or beliefs to consider organ donation.
Sally Johnson, interim chief executive for NHS Blood and Transplant, says: “NHS Blood and Transplant is committed to working with faith organisations, leaders, non-religious groups, hospital chaplains and pastoral carers to build awareness and break down perceived barriers.
“This is particularly important to address concerns and misconceptions about the organ donation process in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”
The NHS is also working with faith leaders and organisations such as Humanists UK to develop a selection of downloadable faith and belief-specific donor cards so people can show their support for donation alongside their own faith or beliefs as well as share with friends and family.