Wednesday, May 19, 2010

European co-operation to increase organ donations

Currently in the European Union over 56,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant which could give them a new lease of life. Every day 12 people die waiting. To tackle this tragic problem there are two things we must do: increase the donation rate across Europe, and effectively and safely use those organs that have been donated.

How can we increase donation rates? Firstly it's important just to talk about it and make people aware of the problem. I saw an
excellent debate on the BBC's The Big Questions where they revealed 90% of people support the idea of their organs being used to save one or more peoples' lives once they've died, but only around 25% of people are on the organ donor register. Signing up is quick and easy and can be done here.

Of course there's the debate about whether the organ donor register should be opt-in or opt-out, which is something that needs further discussion. But there are all sorts of other factors which mean that organ donation rates vary wildly across Europe, from one of the highest rates in the world in Spain (34 donors per million population), to the dismal rate in Bulgaria (1 donor per million population). Today the European Parliament adopted an action plan for the next 5 years to ensure that those working around organ transplantation communicate across borders and share their experiences of what works and what doesn't when encouraging organ donation.

To make sure that we use all the organ donations available to us, the European Parliament today also adopted a report to standardise safety and quality standards for all organ transplants in the EU. This means those patients who are waiting for a rare match could be paired up with a donor from elsewhere in Europe, safe in the knowledge that the donor and organ were subject to the same safety procedures that they would have been in the UK.

In my role as the Labour MEPs' spokesperson for public health, I've been following this legislation closely and have amended it to make it more flexible for the NHS and other health services to work with. I've also defended the developing practices of paired, pooled and altruistic living donation. Paired and pooled donation is where donors who don't match with their relative in need of a transplant donate to someone in a similar situation, and vice versa. Altruistic donation involves somebody volunteering to give an organ, such as a kidney, to a stranger. Of course giving an organ is a big decision, and financial incentives should never be involved.

This brings me on to another awful problem arising from our lack of organ donations, which is organ trafficking. And the only really effective way to combat this terrible crime is to reduce the demand for illegally obtained organs by increasing donation rates.

This is one of the areas where we can reap real benefits for Britain by working together with our European neighbours and I am hoping that today's decisions in the European Parliament will be a significant step towards solving our severe shortage of organ donations. In the meantime, please consider
registering as an organ donor.

The leadership contest

I attended Labour's NEC (National Executive Committee) today where we took decisions regarding the leadership contest and specifically the timeline.

At such an important stage, where we need to reinvigorate and rejuvenate our party, I believe a longer timetable will allow us as a party to have the debate we need to have and allow the candidates to set out their vision for our party. We have nothing to gain by rushing into electing a new leader.

The longer timeline will also allow as many new members to vote as possible. Since the formation of the Con Dem coalition the party has been overwhelmed by thousands and thousands of new members with over 13,000 joining, many of who have resigned from the Liberal Democrats. I am sure many thousands more will follow, and we have set the deadline at September 8 for new members joining to having voting rights.

It is truly sickening to see Cameron calling his coalition with Clegg a progressive alliance, but we all know that events of recent weeks have meant there is only one clearly progressive force in Britain and that is the Labour Party.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gordon Brown

As I watched Gordon Brown outside Downing Street yesterday, announcing his intention to step down as Labour Leader, my thoughts were first and foremost ones of great sadness and injustice, tinged with a not insignificant amount of anger.

For all his faults, and he has been among the first to admit them, I believe history will be kind to Gordon Brown and he will be remembered primarily for his leading role in stemming the global economic crisis. When the moment came Gordon Brown stepped up to the plate and other world leaders followed. It is easy to forget (or purposely disregard) his starring and pivotal role, but had decisive action not been taken, our entire financial system could have collapsed with inconceivable consequences, far beyond those we are currently facing, which already are on an unprecedented scale and of eye-watering magnitude.

But in much of the populist media you certainly won't find any praise, let alone recognition for this pivotal role played by Britain and a British Prime Minister on the world stage. Instead, what we have seen is a sustained, vindictive and frankly undemocratic attack on Gordon Brown. We have witnessed a deeply personal character assassination by the right-wing print and audiovisual media which goes beyond the bounds of acceptability and into a new realm, which for any advocate of democracy should raise serious questions over the role the media plays in our political system, and the influence it is able to exert over public opinion.

But resign Gordon Brown has and as a strong supporter of his, both professionally and personally, I am disappointed at his departure but I do recognise that in the face of both the outcome of the general election and the crescendo of hostile media vilification, the writing was engraved on the wall.