UPDATED 25 JANUARY
The Federal Government is under increasing pressure to overhaul Australia’s organ donation system, as new figures show transplant rates continue to lag drastically behind international standards.
Despite rising slightly over the past two years, Australia’s transplant rate remains less than half that of countries such as Spain, France and Germany, which perform about 90 transplants per million people.
By contrast, there were just 41.5 transplants per million Australians in 2010, up from 39.5 per million in 2008.
Releasing the figures last Friday, transplant advocacy group ShareLife called on the government to implement international best practices for organ donation, such as training dedicated hospital staff in organ procurement.
Dr Deb Verran, a senior transplant surgeon at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and spokeswoman for ShareLife, said the problem was not with Australians’ willingness to donate organs, but with the health system’s ability to make sure organs were obtained and used.
“Not enough people are receiving lifesaving transplants, despite more organs being available,” she said.
She lamented that the government, despite pledging $151 million to develop a “world class transplant system” in 2008, had not implemented evidence-based recommendations.
“We [ShareLife] identified many changes that need to be made. These have not been implemented yet and if we stay on the current path, Australia will remain at the back of the race to save lives,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Organ and Tissue Authority however defended Australia’s figures, noting that 2010 saw the highest donation rate on record.
She added that Australia’s increase in donation rates since 2008 was comparable to that seen in Spain in the first year of implementing reforms, and better than that seen in the UK after reforms.
”We agree that there is a lot more to be done but we can see a good start in achieving the goals of the planned and comprehensive national reform program which was fully operation for the first time in 2010,” the spokesperson said.
“We will see further efforts throughout the coming year to effect further changes in these areas so that we can build on the healthy start achieved in 2010.”
The latest comments come amid ongoing controversy over ShareLife’s claims, with the government recently contesting the group’s figures, pointing to the increase in deceased organ donation rates.
However others have argued that donor rates are different from transplantation rates, as the number of transplants varies from donor to donor.