A total of 2,863 life-giving transplants were carried out during 2003-04 - the highest number ever performed.

A 5% increase in the number of donors enabled more than 1,845 people to benefit from a kidney transplant, the highest number for 14 years, almost 700 people to receive a liver transplant, and more than 300 people to have a cardiothoracic transplant.

A further 2,365 people had their sight restored by a donated cornea - the highest number for seven years.

A quarter of all kidney transplants were from a living donor who gave one of their kidneys to a member of their family or a friend.

The figures are revealed in the annual report of NHS UK Transplant, the special health authority responsible for the donation, matching and allocation of organs and corneas for transplant in the UK.

The authority has invested more than 5.7m over the past three years in hospital-based schemes to increase opportunities for donation, particularly living kidney donor programmes.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said: "It is testament to all those involved in NHS transplant services that this all time high in organ transplantation has been achieved."

Oliver Kemp, a 29-year-old ambulance technician, is one of the 461 people whose life was dramatically enhanced by the gift of a kidney from a relative or close friend.

His father, retired airline pilot Chris Kemp, 60, said he had no hesitation in offering a kidney to Oliver, whose kidneys were damaged as a result of meningococcal septicaemia when he was a teenager. The father and son, who live in Wiltshire, had the operations at Southmead Hospital, Bristol.

Oliver said: "The transplant has made a huge difference. It has given me back my life. I feel extremely grateful to my dad. We chat about it and laugh about it and we feel a lot closer as a result of all we have been through."

Sue Sutherland, UK Transplant chief executive, said: "I am delighted that, for the second year in succession, the records for the number of organ transplants performed have been surpassed.

"This excellent performance is due to increased commitment and investment in donation services and I am optimistic that, provided this is maintained, even more patients will be able to benefit from high quality transplants in the years ahead.

"Despite this success, however, there is still a critical shortage of organ donors. Sadly more than 420 patients, who were waiting for a transplant, died last year because of this shortage. We know from research that 90% of the UK population supports organ donation, but only 19% have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register. Clearly, this presents us with a continuing challenge."

During the period the report covers - April 2003 to March 2004 - a nationwide audit of all deaths in intensive care units also revealed that 42% of relatives of potential donors refused permission to donate, in many cases because they had never discussed organ donation and did not know what their loved one would have wanted.

The report adds: "If we are able to reduce this figure to the same refusal rate as the rest of Europe (24%), approximately 504 kidney patients, 64 more heart patients and 231 more liver patients would be able to benefit from a transplant each year."

The need for more donors from ethnic minorities communities is also stressed in the report. Black and Asian people, who are three to four times more likely to need a kidney transplant, have much longer waiting times for a suitable donated organ. This is because doctors try to match the blood and tissue of the patient with the donor's and the best match is likely to come from a donor from within the same ethnic group.

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, call the Organ Donor Line on 0845 60 60 400 or visit wwwtransplant.

Note to editors:

The figures quoted in the main part of this news release are as reported to NHS UK Transplant by 10 May 2004.

The full annual report is available on the website

For further information, contact UK Transplant press office on 0117 975 7475 or 7477.

Did you know?

-- The NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR) currently holds the details of more than 11.6 million people who have pledged to donate organs and tissue to others after they die

-- In 2003-04, UK Transplant introduced new ways of joining the ODR including through the UK Transplant website

-- As at 17 September 2004: 5,900 people were waiting for an organ transplant, and of those, 5,136 needed a kidney transplant, 262 a lung transplant and 231 a liver transplant

-- On 6 October 2004, a year of special events around the UK will begin to mark the 10 th anniversary of the ODR

-- One donor can give their kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, small bowel and corneas

-- The ODR is used after a person has died to help establish whether they wanted to donate and, if so, which organs. It is available to authorised NHS staff 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

-- Relatives are always consulted if organ donation is a possibility, which is why it is vital to ensure your family is informed of your wishes

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