Organ donation

RCN UK position on consent for organ and tissue donation after death

Following member engagement over the start of 2018, the RCN has published its new UK position on consent for organ and tissue donation after death, stating qualified support for an opt-out system.

This means the RCN supports an opt-out system of consent so long as certain safeguards, supports and resources are in place. These include:


- Investing in infrastructure and capacity, including Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation
- Limiting the opt-out to adults
- Trained professionals discussing donation with families
- The need for sustained awareness campaigns
- A call to review any opt-out on the basis of an impact evaluation.


The new position follows a UK-wide consultation with members. More than 7,700 members expressed their views in an online survey, with 71% broadly in favour of an opt-out system. The majority support for an opt-out system was reflected across all four countries of the UK: Wales (75%); England (69%); Scotland (71%), and Northern Ireland (73%).
This was the first time that the RCN had asked members for their opinions on the issue in nearly a decade. The results were reviewed by the RCN Professional Nursing Committee, the College’s elected decision-making body on professional issues, before agreeing the new position.

What's next?

England and Scotland are both debating legislation to introduce opt-out systems for organ and tissue donations over 2018. The RCN position statement will help us lobby for legislation and guidance that address what members have told us matters to them.

Wales already has an opt-out system in place, but the views we collected from members in Wales will help us to influence ongoing implementation.

Whilst Northern Ireland has no plans to introduce an opt-out at this time, there are proposals in development to increase donations and RCN member views from our survey can help shape these.

What is organ and tissue donation?

“Organ donation transplants healthy organs and tissues from one person into another.” Organ Donation Wales.

 Many people who are waiting for a transplant are seriously ill and are reliant on donations to survive.

 Most donations take place after either brain-stem or circulatory death. Some donations, such as donating a kidney, can also be made by living donors. Donations after death require a particular form of consent to be in place. This is the focus of the RCN survey. 

Organs that can be donated after death are: kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and the small bowel. Tissues that can be donated after death include: corneas, skin, bone, tendons, cartilage and heart valves.  Because organs must be transplanted so soon after death, in reality only people who die in hospital can be considered as organ donors. Unlike organs, tissues can be donated up to 48 hours after death.

More information

Please read our member briefing which explains more information on the systems of consent and why the RCN has reviewed its position.

If you would like to ask a question about the new position please email: