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The process

If you are ill your doctor’s absolute priority will be saving your life. To make absolutely sure everything is impartial, a completely different team of specialists is called in if you die and you (or your family) have agreed to organ donation.

Finding a match

Many things need to match or be very close to ensure a successful organ transplant. Blood group, age and weight are all taken into account. For kidneys, another important factor is tissue type which is more complex than blood grouping - the best results can be achieved from a perfect match. There is a national, computerised list of patients waiting for a transplant, and the computer will identify the best-matched patient for an organ or the transplant unit to where the organ is to be offered. Organs are only ever removed if they are matched with a very sick person whose life could be saved or improved.

Normally, priority is given to patients who most urgently need a transplant. NHSBT operates the UK-wide, 24/7, 365 days a year system. Patients entitled to treatment on the NHS are always given priority. These include UK citizens, members of Her Majesty’s forces serving abroad and patients covered by a reciprocal health agreement with the UK.

Private patients would only be offered an organ if there were no suitable patients entitled to treatment under the NHS. Donated tissue is made available to any hospital in the UK where there is a patient in need. Organs are never used for research purposes unless specific permission is obtained from you or your family. You can sign up or find out more information about medical research here.

The donor operation

The donation operation is performed as soon as possible after death and organs are always removed with the greatest care and respect. In the case of organs, it is essential to operate quickly as organs unfortunately deteriorate after a person's death and so can only function well in a recipient if the are transplanted quickly. 

Would a donor’s family ever know who the recipient was?

After the transplant, confidentiality is always maintained, except in the case of living donors who already know each other. If the family of the donor wishes, they will be given some brief details such as the age and sex of the person or persons who have benefitted from the donation. Patients who receive organs can obtain similar details about their donors. It is not always possible to provide recipient information to donor families for some types of tissue transplant. Those involved may want to exchange anonymous letters of thanks or good wishes through specialist nurses.