With privilege comes responsibility

Anthony Clarkson reflects on the responsibility of his role, and how the directorate is gearing up to create a future strategy to take organ donation past 2020.

28 May 2019

I can imagine nowhere more fulfilling to make my career then within the field of organ donation and transplantation.

Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation, Anthony JohnsonEveryone in the NHS works here because we believe we can make a difference and provide excellent care. In ODT we have the privilege to provide that care to two incredible and inspirational groups; our precious organ donors and their families and the patients who live waiting for the organ transplant that can save and improve their lives. With such privilege comes responsibility. As Director of ODT my role is to work to ensure we meet our responsibilities both now and in the future, and this past week has been one in which these responsibilities have been at the centre of my work.

In order for organ donation in the UK to continue to increase there are a number of factors that need to be in place. Many of these are well known to most of us in NHSBT; the need for people to decide to donate their organs, to have the conversation with their loved ones, the need for families to support that decision and for our team to support and facilitate the donation process. However, perhaps more fundamental than all of that is something less well known. Only a tiny number of people in the UK die each year in circumstances where organ donation is possible, around 5000 out of the 500,000 UK deaths. This precious group is known as the potential organ donor pool, and from this group every single organ donor in the country is drawn. Last year this ‘pool’ shrunk and that shrinkage has continued into early 2019/20. The impact of this, and the potential impact moving forward, is that fewer citizens are in the position where they can potentially donate their organs, and therefore if we are to continue to increase the number of organ donors and organ transplants we must ensure that every single potential organ donor who can donate is supported to do so.

Anthony Clarkson and assistant director colleagues at a Strategic Planning MeetingHow to achieve this was the question that I took to a strategic planning meeting with our assistant director colleagues. There are no easy answers and no quick wins, but that in no way means that we have no options, and as you would expect as a leadership team we are totally committed to this work. I am fortunate to lead a directorate of passionate and committed professionals and together we will need to achieve and maintain a forensic level of focus upon our work in order to keep moving forward. There are still instances of ‘missed opportunities’ and we will need to prevent every instance from occurring, however rare it may be. When a potential donor can donate up to eight organs for transplant it is clear that even one missed opportunity could represent lives saved or lost and we cannot allow that to go unchallenged.

In order to support our team in tackling these issues the assistant directors will form a performance improvement group. Through this they will support colleagues and provide senior leadership support for addressing issues where organ donation and transplant opportunities are being lost. Colleagues in ODT will be hearing more about this moving forward and I am excited by the opportunities for inter-directorate collaboration that this will encourage. In its simplest form our task is clear: maximise donations to save lives. I know I can rely on everyone’s support as we work to achieve this.

Aside from the vital discussion around our organ donors and the potential for donation, I also had some fruitful conversations around strategic workforce planning. As we work to create the successor strategy to Taking Organ Donation to 2020 it is vital that the portfolios of the assistant director team are aligned with our future strategy and are ready to take organ donation into the next decade. We had a productive discussion in which everyone contributed their ideas and aspirations for the service we wish to deliver, and I believe the outcomes will - once implemented - make us the strongest possible team to lead ODT past 2020.

The next strategy will be one which will set the direction for organ donation across the UK, and as such we will be seeking the views and ideas of everyone in ODT and our colleagues in the wider donation and transplantation communities. This is being organised as I type and details will be shared on the ODT Yammer page and externally, so watch this space. It will be an exciting year, and one which can see us achieve so much, I look forward to working with you all to do just that.

Best wishes