Organ and Tissue Donation 2011

In speaking to this issue tonight, I want to consider how our reform agenda is progressing and what needs to be done to ensure that Australia is a world leader not only in transplant surgery but also in the number of organ and tissue donations that we are able to retrieve. It is a sad fact that many people are still unable to access this life-changing and life-saving surgery as we do not have enough organ and tissue donors. When I spoke previously on this issue, I noted that we were on the road to a record year. Indeed, that occurred in 2010, with 309 multiorgan donors who saved or improved the lives of 931 people. That is a 50 per cent improvement on the last 20 years, during which the numbers had flat lined at around 200 multiorgan donors. There were many more tissue donors who helped transform donors. Tissue donation is as important as organ donation. It helps sight to be restored and hearts to keep beating.

The outcomes for 2011 are also showing the likelihood of further steady improvement as we had already had 141 multiorgan donors as at 31 May, resulting in 416 transplants. At the same time last year, we had achieved about 110 donors, with 347 transplants. By any assessment, this improvement is significant. We now have clinical staff in 77 hospitals across Australia and coordinating staff in all jurisdictions. Prior to last year, which was our first full year of operation under the reform agenda, these staff were not available. They have certainly made a difference in identifying potential donors and ensuring that clinical staff are able to approach each and every family.

Death audits are undertaken and we know as a result of these audits that 100 per cent of potential donors are identified, with a consent rate of 70 per cent. Our objective, of course, is to reach a 100 per cent consent rate, so that everyone who is approached will agree to donate their loved one's organs.

We also know that many hospitals now are identifying potential donors and calling in retrieval teams, which has not occurred in the past. For example, we know that Calvary hospital in Canberra has had a multiple organ donor this year. In fact, the ACT was the proud leader of organ donation in 2010, with 27.9 donors per million population. Australia's overall rate of donors was 13.8 per million population.

We cannot change to become a world leader in this highly technical and specialised sector overnight. We are looking for steady and sustained improvement, and that is what we are seeing. This is similar to approaches in Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, when they embarked upon their programs of reform. It is interesting to note that each of those countries also asked families for approval for their loved ones to become organ donors. I note that Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania are currently looking at the optout system, but I hope they will put this to one side and continue on the path of reform that they confirmed in 2009. Some countries, such as Austria, do not have improved outcomes as a result of an opt out system. At this stage, we need cultural change, where we all know the wishes of our loved ones, rather than a legislative framework to commandeer their organs.

The important component of the reform agenda includes the media campaigns that have been successfully run by the Organ and Tissue Authority. The first major campaign, which began in May last year, focused on the three Ds: discover the facts about organ donation, decide what you want to do and sign on to the register and, most importantly, discuss your wishes with your family. The second campaign began in February this year during DonateLife Week. Its message was: any day is a good day to discuss organ and tissue donation. The third campaign builds on the work of the previous two campaigns, and the message is simple: know your family's wishes, discuss it today, OK.

I am pleased that each state and territory has reaffirmed its commitment to the reform agenda. At a meeting of Australia's health ministers in February 2011, a continuing commitment was made by jurisdictions to provide funding for increased activity in tissue typing, retrieval of organs and transplant surgery. This commitment is incredibly important and complements the injection of funds by the Commonwealth for state and territory hospitals to identify donors.

Finally, I pay for tribute to the foot soldiers, our community of volunteers, who work on this issue. They work tirelessly to support the reform agenda. They are the people who go out to community groups on cold evenings to promote the 'OK message'. It is a confronting message that they promote, and they undertake this activity with good grace and patience.

On behalf of Canberrans and this parliament I thank them for their efforts. I urge all members and senators to hold a community information session in their electorates this year. We need to spread the message about it being OK to be an organ donor.

Download a copy of this speech.

Tweets by @TwitterDev