British women trying to conceive are having to buy sperm samples from abroad, experts warned today. Three-quarters of donated sperm used in UK fertility clinics gets shipped in from overseas, like the US and Poland.
Health leaders fear the nationwide donor shortage may also be forcing women to buy samples from rogue online banks. It could leave women at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to fertility charity Progress Educational Trust.
The body now wants to see a recruitment drive to get men in England to donate sperm to the NHS. Its survey, of more than 2,000 adults, discovered 53 per cent of men are willing to donate sperm.
A new report warns a shortage of British sperm is putting women at risk from operators with less stringent checks than UK fertility clinics
World’s first IVF baby calls for end to ‘postcode lottery’ of NHS fertility care
The world’s first IVF baby has called for an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ of NHS fertility care.
Louise Brown, who was born in 1978, said that it must be ‘devastating’ for people to be told they cannot access funded IVF care.
It comes as a new poll for the charity Progress Educational Trust (PET), found that 67 per cent of British adults support the provision of NHS-funded fertility treatment to people who are infertile and wish to conceive.
Commenting on the poll, Ms Brown said: ‘It is time to end the postcode lottery for fertility treatment.
‘For people who don’t have much money and desperately want a child, being told: ‘We won’t fund your IVF treatment’ must be devastating.’
National guidelines in England recommended that women under 40 should be offered three full cycles of IVF, and those aged 40-42 should be offered one cycle.
But previous analysis suggest that women are offered differing amounts of fertility care depending on where they live.
In some localities, prospective parents are offered three fully-funded cycles – worth thousands of pounds – but in other regions people are forced to pay for treatment out of their own pockets.
‘The commissioning of fertility services needs to catch up with public opinion,’ added Sarah Norcross, director of PET.
‘These survey results send a strong message to Government, NHS England and commissioning bodies to take action.
‘The postcode-lottery approach is unfair and unjustifiable and we hope that the government’s upcoming Women’s Heath Strategy will tackle this issue.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson added: ‘We recognise this is an important issue for anyone struggling to have children, and we are clear that patients should have fair and equal access to NHS fertility treatment where and when they need it.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Ultimately these are legally decisions for individual CCGs (clinical commissioning groups), who are under an obligation to balance the various competing demands on the NHS locally, while living within the budget parliament has allocated.’
Sarah Norcross, director of the PET, said: ‘Action needs to be taken so that men’s willingness to donate is not wasted.’
Sperm donation is used to help people start families when they can’t have children of their own naturally – if, for example, a male partner is infertile, if both parents are women, or if the mother is single.
In the UK, sperm donation is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
Under these rules, all donors are screened for STIs and inheritable medical conditions, such as debilitating asthma, clubfoot and haemophilia.
But not all foreign clinics offer the same standards of screening.
Clinics in the UK are not allowed to pay men to donate sperm, except up to £35 to cover expenses such as travel.
Anonymity is also not guaranteed, with children conceived through donated sperm winning the right to know their father’s identity when they turn 18.
British couples can import sperm in the UK through any licensed fertility clinic at a cost of close to £950 a dose.
Some 3,000 samples are brought in from Denmark and 4,000 from the US each year, statistics suggest.
Another option is online websites, where people can arrange a donation privately but HFEA warns there are ‘very real risks and consequences’ of obtaining sperm this way.
Online sperm donation is technically legal, as long as women are not charged money for the service.
Users of such sites have also claimed men have tried to pressure or mislead them into unprotected sex or sending them inappropriate pictures.
Professor Allan Pacey, a sperm expert at the University of Sheffield, said while importing sperm into the UK was perfectly safe and legal, the reliance on foreign donors pointed to problems with the British system.
‘It suggests the UK has a structural problem in its donor recruitment infrastructure, given that so many men in this survey would consider donating sperm yet don’t seem to do so,’ he told The Times.
Clare Ettinghausen, HFEA’s director of strategy, said that donating eggs or sperm was a selfless act but one that should be thought about carefully.
‘Patients should always use a HFEA licensed clinic when using sperm donors to ensure that all medical and other checks are done, and the correct consents are taken,’ she said.
The NHS says: ‘By becoming a sperm donor, you really could give the gift of life to those who would otherwise be unable to have children.’
It comes after a major donor website has now come out to warn women against turning to strangers on social media in their bid to conceive.
Pride Angel – which connects couples, lesbians and single women with donors – has seen the number of men offering services double in less than five years.
One online sperm donor, Simon Watson, claims to have fathered more than 800 children, including 18 sets of twins.
He has even offered to pass his samples over to women in supermarket car parks.