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Quebec's organ donor wait list decreasing, but the province can do better

Surgical instruments are used during an organ transplant surgery on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Molly Riley) Surgical instruments are used during an organ transplant surgery on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Molly Riley)
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New data shows the list of people waiting for an organ donation in Quebec has decreased, thanks to a 17 per cent increase in the number of people who received a transplant and a record number of donors in 2023.

As of Dec. 31 there were 853 people on Transplant Quebec's waiting list, compared to 913 on the same date in 2022.

Data provided by the organ donation organization Wednesday showed that 41 people died last year while waiting for an organ, which is six fewer than the year before.

Executive director Martine Bouchard said some people are also removed from the list because they've become too sick to remain a donation candidate.

However, she said the number of people who received a transplant increased considerably, which "can also have an effect on the number of people on the wait list."

The number of people referred for organ donation increased by nearly 35 per cent, to 1,156 referrals in 2023. Of those, 270 referrals were admissible, including 21 donors who received medical assistance in dying (MAID). Another 151 referrals from people who received MAID did not qualify.

This increase in referrals was due in part to the introduction of co-ordinating physicians in almost all of the province's health centres, Bouchard said. They work with staff in hospitals and at Transplant Québec, offering training and helping to identify potential donors.

"Of course if there are more referrals, there are more donors and more transplants, and therefore less waiting for certain organs," she said.

The 2023 report showed that the wait for lung transplants reached an all-time low of 57 days on average, and the number of people on the heart transplant list was at a 10-year-low of 32 days.

The number of transplanted organs was up 20 per cent, thanks to 206 deceased donors who provided 696 organs.

"Having 206 donors is an all-time record.... The only downside I'm bringing up is that it's under pressure in terms of the resources that are available," Bouchard said.

"We won't be able to continue to increase by squeezing more from our resources that are stretched to the maximum."

She said that even next year, it might not be possible to equal 2023's record.

And while 2023's indicators are positive, she said the number of potential donors remains below what Quebec can achieve.

"Concretely, this means that people in need of an organ and on our wait list are dying, when we know we can do better," she said.

Quebec had a rate of 23 deceased donors per million inhabitants in 2023, which is up from 19.7 the year before. Ontario saw a similar rate, at 23.1, while data from other provinces was not yet available.

While Quebec has improved, it's still far behind Spain and the United States, where rates at the end of 2023 were 48.3 and 48.6 donors per million inhabitants, respectively.

"To arrive at similar rates to Spain or certain jurisdictions in the United States, we have to have more resources throughout the entire chain of donation and transplant," Bouchard said.

The Montreal metropolitan region remained the best performer on a per capita basis in terms of the province's organ donor referrals, with a rate of 26.3 potential donors per 100,000 inhabitants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.

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