LONDON – Britain’s transplant authority said Saturday that it was investigating several hundred thousand errors in its organ donor list stretching back about a decade.
The National Health Service Blood and Transplant organization said a proportion of its 14 million-strong organ donor list has been affected by technical errors since 1999 – and that a small group of people may have had organs removed without proper authorization as a result.
The programming error meant that, for example, people who wanted to donate organs such as their lungs or their skin were incorrectly identified as people who wanted to donate their corneas or heart.
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper said the glitch affected about 800,000 people – 45 of whom have since died and donated organs. Just under half of those are thought to have made donations based on the erroneous data, the paper said.
An official at the National Health Service did not dispute the paper’s figures although she did not confirm them either, saying an investigation was ongoing. She spoke anonymously because officials were still gathering information before contacting affected families.
She stressed that everyone on the register was a willing donor of some kind.
“There’s no suggestion that people have been signed up to the register who didn’t want to be there,” she said.
“There’s no possibility of any incorrect data being used today,” she said.
The revelation comes at an awkward time for the government, which has been pushing to increase Britain’s rate of organ donation, one of the lowest in Europe. Officials have poured millions of dollars into an awareness campaign and floated the idea of automatically designating every person a donor unless they or their survivors opt out.