The Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) is where patients with the most serious and life threatening conditions are cared for within the hospital. Sadly there are a small number of patients, who despite the best efforts of the ITU team will not survive due to the severity of their illness. In these cases focus will switch from active treatment and instead look to provide high quality End of Life Care (EoLC).
As part of providing EoLC the ITU team will explore any end of life wishes that the patient and family may have, including the need for religious and spiritual support and the presence of significant family and friends at the patient’s bedside. The option of Organ and Tissue donation may also be discussed at this point.
Organ donation is rare and can only take place within the ITU when the patient is attached to the ventilator (breathing machine). Of all the people that die in the UK per year (approx. 600,000 in 2017) less than 1% are actually eligible to be considered for organ donation. However not everyone in this position can go on to be an organ donor for a varying number of reasons, including past medical history or current clinical condition. A specialist nurse invited in by the ITU team will assess suitability for organ donation and will only discuss this with the family of the patient if it is a possible end of life option.
It is at this point that the organ donor register (ODR) will be consulted to see if the patient has made any wishes related to donation in their life time. If the patient has expressed that they would like to help save the lives of others by “opting in” to the ODR then this will be sensitively discussed with the family and they will be asked to support the patient’s wishes. However if the patient’s wishes are unknown then the family will be asked to make a decision on behalf of their loved one.
If the family agree to support the patients wish or consent for organ donation is given, then the specialist nurse will facilitate the process of organ donation. This involves a comprehensive assessment of medical history, the matching of donor organs to individual recipients on the transplant waiting list and the coordination of the organ retrieval operation in the hospital where the donor is being treated.
For more information please visit the following websites and watch the NHS Organ Donation video:
NHS Blood and Transplant website: https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/
NHS Organ Donation: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/