An independent review has been launched into how as many as 800,000 people on the UK organ donor register had their preferences incorrectly recorded.

A “technical error” has lead to 21 cases in which the wrong organs may have been taken from deceased donors over the past six years.

It is believed that the error occurred when the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority in Swansea, which used to collect details of drivers’ preferences about organ donation, transferred its records to NHS Blood and Transplant, which now runs the organ donor register.

In a call with E-Health Insider, a spokesperson for NHS Blood and Transplant said: "The problem comes from a programming error tracked back to 1999 which only came to light because we were extending the system that acknowledges registrations.

"The data collected from the registration of the DVLA came in fine, but there was a programming error when the data was offered up to the register, so it did not read it as it should do.

"The error is not random. It is the same mistake that is there every time. Therefore, it is easier to identify who is being affected."

In a statement over the weekend, the agency explained that in 21 cases over six years, families gave permission for a donation to take place. However, this may not have been in line with the individual’s preferences.

In a statement yesterday, health secretary Andy Burnham said that he “deeply regretted the distress caused to the families affected.”

Donors who join the register give permission can give permission for their organs to be used or can specify which organs may and may not be used.

When NHS Blood and Transplant contacted potential donors to thank them and check their preferences, it received a large number of replies saying the details held were incorrect.

The agency has already corrected about half of the 800,000 records affected. In a statement, it added: “We will shortly be writing to all those on the register who may be affected to confirm their preferences.

"Anyone else on the register who is not contacted can be confident that their record is accurate.”

Donor applications originating from the DVLA were suspended last month. Burnham said he had appointed Professor Sir Gordon Duff, chairman of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, to lead the review.