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Minister lashed over organ donor review

The high-profile head of the Organ and Tissue Authority’s advisory council resigned from the position on national television and fired a broadside at Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash after she announced a review of the organisation’s performance.

Television presenter David Koch used Channel Seven’s Sunrise program to accuse Senator Nash of caving in to vested interests by commissioning the inquiry, which is to be conducted by consultancy Ernst and Young.

Senator Nash said the nation had invested a quarter of a billion dollars in organ and tissue donation since 2008, but the results had been modest.

The Minister said the rate of deceased organ donors had increased from 12.1 per million to just 16.1 per million in that time.

“Both Coalition and Labor Federal governments have made a significant investment in improving Australia’s organ transplant rate,” Senator Nash said. “Since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a national reform agenda for organ and tissue donation in 2008, around $250 million has been invested. However, organ transplant rates have not increased as quickly as intended.”

The Australian National Audit Office began a review of the Authority last year, and Senator Nash said a preliminary examination by the Health Department recommended there be a review of the current program, specifically looking at the Authority’s role.

“Organ donation is an issue for the whole community and we need the whole community, including governments, to do absolutely everything possible,” the Minister said. “As such, we need to take a good look at what’s working and what isn’t; what’s successful and where we can improve.”

But in his on-air attack, Mr Koch defended the Authority’s performance and said Senator Nash lacked “backbone”.

“Since the Organ and Tissue Authority was launched just back in 2009, Australia’s donation rank has risen from a lowly 32nd in the world to 19th, and grown 41 per cent,” the presenter said. “We still have a lot to do, but we are getting there, and it is a world-class rate.”

Mr Koch said the ShareLife advocacy group, formed in 2006 to drive up organ donation rates, “basically want to take control of the reforms and take control of the money”, and accused Senator Nash of acceding to their agenda.

“The politician in charge of donations, Fiona Nash, has not supported the Authority’s program, and caved into this rich lobby group and started yet another expensive inquiry into it. It’s an absolute disgrace,” Mr Koch said.

He claimed that he had been blindsided by the Government’s announcement of a review, saying Senator Nash had not called him to seek his advice or inform him of the inquiry, and said the Minister needed to “get a backbone”.

But Senator Nash’s office said Mr Koch had been told about the review by Health Department Deputy Secretary Mark Cormack on 20 May, and the Minister said she had spoken to “many stakeholders for some time” about ways to boost donation rates.

ShareLife Director Brian Myerson refuted Mr Koch’s accusations.

“[It is] extremely disappointing that he’s turned it into a personal attack. I would far rather just focus on the data and on the information,” Mr Myerson said on ABC radio.

Senator Nash said Ernst and Young would hand her their report in early August.

Adrian Rollins