People on organ donor waiting lists could be forgiven for being flushed with optimism by a recent press release from Australians Donate, the government-funded peak body for organ donation in Australia:

A 40% increase in organ donor rates had been achieved by hospitals participating in the first three months of the Australians Donate National Organ Donation Collaborative (NODC), chairman Mrs Marcia Coleman said…

The reality of the situation is far less optimistic – it turns out that 40% increase was the result of some creative number crunching.

“Enthusiasm rushing ahead of the facts,” is how Neil Boyce, Executive Director of LifeGift, characterised the figure. “Donor rates can only go three ways – up, down or the same – and they have been remarkably stable over recent decades. The last thing I would want to suggest is the problem is solved because we had a good three months. There is a very large random event impact here,” he told Crikey.

The fact is, Australia lags a long way behind its international neighbours when it comes to organ donation. Spain boasts 34 donors per million population, Ireland 22, Italy 21, and the UK 12 – Australia has only ten. While there are complex factors at work here, the “40% increase” must have come as a massive relief for Australians Donate, which needed some good news with “Australia…facing the grim prospect of its lowest organ donation rate since the start of the decade” – there were only 84 donors in the first half of the year.

The National Organ Donor Collective (NODC), organised and managed by Australians Donate, has also been criticised. Sources told Crikey it’s too early to run such a study and that any momentum it creates will be wasted because the infrastructure is not yet in place to capitalise on the findings.

Marcia Coleman doesn’t agree with that assessment. “Much of what needs to happen is already in place because the people are there. Many of the services and individuals are already there.” Further, there are “measurement tools” and a “change package” in place, and the Collaborative itself is based on the respected methodology of the US-based Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

Coleman acknowledged there were limitations: “Not every hospital in Australia is in a position to have, for example, an intensive care unit. So it doesn’t cover every hospital. But we are working in the 22 hospitals and then we will apply that to appropriate hospitals across Australia.”

Yet that hasn’t stopped healthcare professionals claiming Australians Donate is taking credit for things that it should not, which serves to diminish its efforts in the eyes of the people it should be looking to for advice and support. Nor has it answered questions about the Collaborative. Why was it embarked on too early? Political pressure? Or professional naivety? And what will be the cost to the Australian donor system in the short to medium term?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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