Siobhan Ryan reports on efforts in Sussex to encourage more people to sign on to the national organ donor register.

Earlier this year, Brighton and Hove City Council sent out special forms with its electoral roll forms to homes across the city.

People were urged to join the national organ donor register so their heart, lungs or other organs could be used to help save a life after their death.

The response was significant, with thousands of people agreeing to sign up.

Councils in Worthing, Eastbourne and Hastings have carried out similar schemes and the results have been very positive.

Most people are actively in favour of organ donation but have not got round to making sure other people know.

Campaigns such as the councils' are helping to raise awareness of the register so the difficult time when hospital doctors have to ask relatives about the possibility of organ donation is made a little easier.

According to UK Transplant, 16 per cent of the British population is on the organ donor register but about 70 per cent of people have expressed interest in offering their organs.

Kidney transplants are the most commonly performed. Transplants of the heart, liver and lungs are also regularly carried out.

As medicine advances, other vital organs, including the pancreas and small bowel, are also being used in transplants. Tissue such as corneas, heart valves, skin and bone can also be donated.

Transplants are now so successful that, a year after surgery, about 95 per cent of kidneys from living donor transplants, 85 per cent of kidneys from people who have died and 80 per cent of the organs in liver and heart transplants are still functioning well.

For lung or heart/lung transplants, the figure is nearly 70 per cent and improving all the time.

The increasing effectiveness of transplantation means many more patients can be considered for treatment but there is a serious shortage of donors.

For some people, this means waiting, sometimes for years, and undergoing difficult and stressful treatment in the meantime.

Many die before a suitable organ becomes available.

There are now more than 5,600 people on the active national transplant waiting list, an increase of two per cent on last year.

A campaign bus recently arrived at Brighton seafront as part of a tour of English towns and cities to encourage people to sign up to the national register.

Sue Johnstone, from Transplants In Mind, which co-ordinated the tour, said: "Worryingly, the number of donors has gone down by 11 per cent in the past year.

"The majority of people we talk to say they are not against the idea but have never got round to signing up.

"It is so important they do but it is equally important they let their families know as well."

Another organisation, Donors For The Gift Of Life, has been set up to help swell the numbers on the register.

Mike Hollingdale, who set up the company, which is based in Eastbourne, with Peter Scantlebury, said: "We are going out to people and organisations and companies, putting the form under their nose and asking them to sign.

"We collate all the details then send them on to UK Transplant.

"There are between 5,000 and 6,000 people waiting for a transplant and about 400 will die each year because there are not enough organs available. We need to do everything we can to help."

The company's aim is to get people involved; to ask them to approach their friends, neighbours, collea-gues and team mates.

Mr Scantlebury said: "Our research tells us that, after a period of time to discuss and consider the topic with spouses, partners or loved ones, nearly eight out of ten people would agree to donate their organs after their death. Very few object on moral, ethical or religious grounds."

For further details about UK Transplant, go to www.

For details about Donors For The Gift Of Life, call 01323 749439 or go to