updated 1/16/2008 7:19:54 PM ET 2008-01-17T00:19:54

Britain said Wednesday that a series of procedural changes at hospitals could boost the rate of organ donation by 50 percent within five years. That would mean an extra 1,200 transplants a year, potentially saving thousands of lives.

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"If we are able to save these lives, we must take action now," Health Minister Ann Keen said in a statement.

The task force behind the report issued 14 recommendations to make organ donation a standard part of hospital procedure, including a proposal to double the number of medical professionals responsible for asking grieving families to give up their deceased relatives' body parts.

It also recommended creating 24-hour organ retrieval teams and a new publicity campaign to educate the public. The government said it would invest 11 million pounds ($21.6 million) into supporting the recommendations, with more to follow.

The report comes three days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown decried the nation's low organ donation rate in an editorial and called for a system of "presumed consent" in which doctors would be allowed to remove body parts from deceased patients unless they had specifically refused to donate. The task force did not address the issue of presumed consent.

Britain's donation rate is low compared with the United States and many other European countries. Brown said Britain had only 14 organ donors for every million people, much lower than 22 per million in France, 25 per million in America and 35 per million in Spain, which he described as the best in the world.

With increased organ donations, the department of health estimated it could save millions. For example, with more kidney transplants, hospitals would have to pay for far fewer dialysis treatments, which could save the health system more than 500 million pounds ($980 million) in the next decade.

"Donation will become usual, not unusual," said Chris Rudge, the director of UK Transplant, the agency that manages Britain's transplant infrastructure. He warned that "without change, donor and transplant levels will fall."

Health officials have said that more than 7,500 people are waiting for organs in Britain.

Brown said in his editorial that switching to an organ donation system in which consent is presumed could save thousands of lives, but the procedure has disquieted ethicists and patient groups, who fear it could lead to organs being harvested against patients' or families wishes.

An official report on presumed consent is due out this summer.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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