The NHS Blood and Transplant organisation is investigating errors in its 14 million-strong donor list that may have led to some organs being removed without permission, it said last night.

Technical errors since 1999 meant that, for example, people who wished to donate their lungs or skin were incorrectly identified as wanting to donate their corneas or heart. The Sunday Telegraph said the glitch affected about 800,000 people, 45 of whom have since died and donated organs. Just under half are thought to have made donations based on the faulty data, the paper said.

The revelation comes at an awkward time for the Government, which has been pushing to increase Britain's rate of organ donation, one of the lowest in Europe. Officials have floated the idea of automatically designating every person a donor unless they or their survivors opt out.