Effect of persuasive messages on National Health Service Organ Donor Registrations: a pragmatic quasi-randomised controlled trial with one million UK road taxpayers

Anna Sallis*, Hugo Harper, Michael Sanders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A shortage of organs available for transplantation is causing loss of life. Increasing the number of individuals on the National Health Service (NHS) Organ Donor Register (ODR) is one way to address the shortage of organs. In Great Britain, new drivers registering for their driving licence are invited to join the ODR. A further 17 million drivers renew their road tax online each year, presenting an additional opportunity to prompt drivers to join the ODR. This trial explores the effect of adding persuasive messages to a prompt to join the ODR at the end of road tax payment transactions. Methods: In this pragmatic, parallel group, quasi-randomised controlled trial, drivers renewing their road tax or registering for a driving licence were alternately allocated, using a JavaScript randomisation code embedded in the GOV.UK website, to view a control prompt inviting sign-ups to the ODR or the same prompt plus one of seven theoretically informed persuasive messages; (i) social norms alone, (ii) social norms plus the NHS ODR logo, (iii) social norms plus an image, (iv) loss frame, (v) gain frame, (vi) reciprocity and (vii) cognitive dissonance. The trial took place over a 4-week period in June 2013. The primary outcome measure was participants completing the online registration form (sign-ups). Results: Altogether, 1,085,322 website users were included in the study. Further, 1171 more sign-ups were completed under the most effective message (reciprocity) compared to the control prompt alone (reciprocity: n = 4256, control: n = 3085; odds ratio, OR 1.38, 95% confidence interval 1.32-1.45, p < 0.001). The loss-framed message was as effective. All messages increased sign-ups compared to the control prompt apart from the social norms message plus image (n = 2879; OR 0.94, 95% confidence interval 0.89-0.99, p < 0.05). Conclusions: Short persuasive messages alongside a prompt can persuade more ODR sign-ups for individuals renewing their road tax than a prompt alone. The most effective message remains in place today. Since the trial in 2013, the same message has been implemented across 25 government end-of-transaction websites on GOV.UK, resulting in 529,000 new registrations to the ODR up to 31st October 2017.

Original languageEnglish
Article number513
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Gain frame
  • Loss frame
  • Message framing
  • Organ donation
  • Reciprocity
  • Social norms


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