England will move to an opt-out system for organ donation, meaning everyone will be presumed to be an organ donors unless they express their dissent, Prime Minister Theresa May has said.
In a tumultuous flagship speech at the Conservative Party Conference – where she was interrupted by a comedian and knocked off stride by a cough – Ms May also announced an urgent review of mental health services.
The BMA welcomed the announcements and said it has long called for an opt-in organ donor system, but chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was ‘disappointing’ that neither she nor the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had made any announcements to address the ‘mounting crisis’ in the NHS.
The ‘opt-out’ announcement follows policies implemented in Wales in 2015, and announced by the Scottish Government in June this year, which showed signs of saving lives within months of implementation.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also announced such a policy at his party’s conference last week.
Highlighting her Government’s focus on addressing inequalities, particularly the different health outcomes in black and minority ethnic (BME] communities, Ms May said: ‘Our ability to help people who need transplants is limited by the number of organ donors who come forward.
‘That’s why, last year, 500 people died because a suitable organ was not available and there are 6,500 on the transplant list today. So to address this challenge, that affects all communities in our country, we will change that system: shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation.’
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘It is important that the new process [for organ donation] is well publicised to ensure the public are fully aware of and understand this important change.
But added it was ‘excellent news’ and could ‘save many lives’.
Ms May also announced a review into the Mental Health Act, particularly its disproportionate use in detaining young men from BME communities, will be chaired by former chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Sir Simon Wessely.
She said he had been asked ‘to undertake an independent review of the Mental Health Act so we can tackle the long standing injustices and recrimination in our mental health system once and for all’.
However, Dr Nagpaul said that he was ‘disappointed’ at the lack of NHS policies.
‘It is right that the Prime Minister thanked NHS staff for their hard work, however, it is disappointing that, as with the health secretary speech yesterday, there have been no new announcements aimed at addressing the mounting crisis that is already overwhelming many parts of the NHS and will only get worse during the winter.’
Her speech was interrupted by comedian Lee Nelson, real name Simon Brodkin, who handed her a P45 mid-speech.
Her keynote was further undermined by a persistent cough which meant she had to borrow a lozenge from Chancellor Philip Hammond and by her set slowly disintegrating behind her.