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Better communication with families is the key to organ donations

Published: 5 February 2003

A three-year research project at the University of Southampton's School of Nursing and Midwifery has found that effective communication, good rapport with health professionals, and knowing the wishes of the deceased regarding organ and tissue donation, are important factors in helping families to make decisions about donation that are not regretted later.

These and other findings will be released at an event at the University's Nightingale Building at 1.30pm next Wednesday (5 February), which will be attended by health professionals and families involved in the research.

The study team spoke to 43 families involved in making a decision about organ donation following bereavement. Families were asked to discuss their experiences with researchers on three occasions up to two years after the death.

Effective communication between hospital staff and family members proved vital in building good rapport. Conventional discussions supplemented with explanatory leaflets, visual aids such as anatomical models of the brain or X-rays and CT scans helped relatives understand about the serious brain injury sustained by their loved one, and the possible consequences.

Principal Investigator Dr Magi Sque said, "In the case of sudden death, perhaps in a car accident or as a result of a brain haemorrhage, relatives are deeply shocked and can find it hard to come to terms with what has happened. It may be difficult for them to understand the medical details so they can be confident in making a decision.

"Our findings also indicated that assessment of a relative's need for information and support should begin at the bedside and continue after they return home. This could include individual emotional support, peer support, bereavement education, crisis intervention and appropriate information about and from organ recipients."

Dr Sque suggested this could only be offered within a comprehensive programme of a nationally available donor family support service.

The project has been carried out in association with the British Organ Donor Society (BODY) and supported by a £163,000 National Lottery Community Fund grant.

In the UK, around 800 people become major organ donors each year. More than 5,600 people in the country are waiting for a transplant. Ten million people have given permission for their organs to be transplanted after death by adding their names to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Notes for editors

  1. Journalists are welcome to attend the event on Wednesday 5 February. Please advise us if you wish to attend, by calling Karen Woods or Sarah Watts on 023 8059 3212.
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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