31 Jul 2011

DVLA form ‘nudges’ drivers to donate organs

From tomorrow people will have to answer questions about organ donation before they can complete their driving licence application through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency website.

The initiative aims to encourage people to think about organ donation and to drive up numbers on the organ donor register.

“We want to make it easier for people to sign up to the Organ Donor Register when they apply for their driving licence and encourage everyone to discuss their organ donation wishes with their lived ones,” says Health Minister Anne Milton, who is launching the scheme.

“Being an organ donor is a truly selfless act and a life-saving gift to someone in need. Only 29 per cent of people in the UK have registered to donate organs, when we know 90 per cent of people in the UK have expressed interest in donating.”

The DVLA scheme is being implemented by the Government’s “nudge” unit, set up to encourage people to change their behaviour in ways they do not notice and without recourse to legislation.

The new behavioural insights team at the Cabinet Office has been working with the Department of Health to improve “health outcomes”, drawing on insights from behavioural science.

The team is advised by Professor Richard Thaler who, along with Cass R Sunstein, co-wrote the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Being an organ donor is a truly selfless act and a life-saving gift to someone in need. Anne Milton, Health Minister

A document on the Cabinet Office website discusses the idea of “prompted choice” in relation to organ donation. It notes that prompted choice “has already been successfully applied to organ donation registration in several US states.

“Since 2008, Illinois has required that all driving licence applicants actively decide whether to register as a donor or not.

“The percentage of donors signed up to the register has increased from 38 per cent to 60 per cent as a result.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who is known to be a fan of “nudge theory”, has already said he does not wish to tighten regulation for junk food companies – another area where the Government’s preference is to encourage, rather than coerce, people to change their behaviour.

However, plans to get people to adopt healthier lifestyles were criticised earlier this month by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee because they were not backed up by legislation.

Peers said nudge theory – a central plank of the Government’s policy for public health – would not work in isolation.