Louise will today introduce a bill to the House of Commons to guarantee paid leave for living organ donors who currently are left without the statutory right to time off to donate and get better. Here she writes why:
The figures are tragic and sobering: last year four hundred people died waiting for an organ transplant which would have saved their lives. For every family, the grief is exacerbated by a painful awareness that more could have been done.
Six thousand people nationwide are going through the utter agony of waiting for the call that could save them, but year in, year out, the availability of those organs never matches the need.
While much of the focus is rightly dedicated to those brave families who make the difficult decision, after the death of their loved one, to give life to another, living donors should also be hailed for their selflessness in giving up an organ to save someone they may have never met.
But there are barriers in the way of living donors that must be dismantled immediately, and a lack of legal protections is holding back these potential life-savers.
It hardly needs saying but giving an organ is an enormous commitment and, if you’re an employee, the time needed off work may give you pause for thought.
The NHS advises that living donors can expect up to twelve weeks recovery time; this will vary between people and the job they do. There are no statutory entitlements whatsoever allowing living organ donors to take time off work.
They have to rely on the goodwill of their boss, who may not feel comfortable about losing an employee for any length of time. Particularly for young people, who are the most likely to donate high-quality bone marrow, time out of the workplace or being forced to take that time off unpaid may cause them to put off the decision to become a lifesaver.
In an age where workers feel increasingly insecure in their jobs and where, at the sharp end of the economy, unscrupulous employment practices are rife, these legal guarantees could make the difference between donating and not.
In one particularly shocking example, a man told me that he donated bone marrow to an anonymous blood cancer patient but was allowed just three days off work, unpaid, to cover the time in hospital. He felt pressured to return because he was accused of “making himself sick” by his employer.
We are already chronically short of donors and we should be clearing every conceivable barrier put in the way of potential life savers. That’s why I’m introducing a bill in Parliament today which will guarantee living organ donors paid time off and will guarantee that their terms and conditions and their rights are the same when they return as when they left.
I’m delighted that major businesses like the insurer Aviva and the DIY firm Wickes back my call. It’s fantastic that a cross-party group of MPs including the chair of the health select committee are supporting statutory leave including pay for living donors.
Each donation is an astonishing story of bravery in its own right and a life-changing moment for the individuals and families who benefit from the generosity of donors.
These guarantees will not only bring peace of mind but will help increase the number of living donors from just one thousand and bridge the gap between availability and need. But crucially, it will send a clear signal from government that if you are prepared to give an organ to save a life, the law will back you up every step of the way.
Louise Haigh is Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley