The British Fertility Society (BFS) has issued new recommendations to address the critical shortage of sperm donors in the UK. In a report published in the journal Human Fertility, the BFS calls on the Department of Health to assist the sector in implementing a nationally co-ordinated strategy to improve the donor recruitment infrastructure across the country.
In 2007 the BFS convened a working party, including representatives from the Donor Conception Network, Infertility Network UK and the National Gamete Donation Trust, to address key issues relating to the national provision of sperm donation services and recommend new proposals to increase donor numbers and therefore allow more patients to be treated. The review reveals that the current national shortage of sperm donors is at a critical level, with only a small proportion of UK fertility clinics having the resources to recruit new donors. Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show that fewer patients received treatment with donor sperm in 2006 than any year previously recorded. The working party concluded the demand for donor insemination (DI) in the UK is approximately 4000 patients per year, which would require at least 500 sperm donors to be recruited each year. In 2006, there were only 307 newly registered donors, 40% lower than the number registered in 19911.
The report recommends a national framework of sperm donation services should be implemented, based on a ‘hub and spoke’ model. Under this plan, main regional ‘hub’ centres would coordinate and implement the majority of services for donors, such as recruitment, screening tests, sample storage, and counselling, with smaller local ‘spoke’ centres providing services for patients requiring treatment, such as counselling, medical assessment and treatment with donor sperm. According to current demand for DI, the report proposes that 14 main ‘hub’ centres should be set up across the UK. These main centres would also be responsible for regulating family numbers per donor, and delivering sperm samples across the country. This proposed service plan is designed to increase the efficiency of donor recruitment and management, particularly during the early stages of the process between the initial enquiry and first attendance at a clinic where up to 35% of potential donors are currently lost. It will also allow donation services to be evenly spread across the country, allowing greater accessibility and improved public awareness.
Additional key recommendations of the report:
- The number of families allowed to be created by a single donor (currently 10) should be re-evaluated and flexible in approach. The working party call for further research in this area to assess the impact of any policy changes on donors, their current children, and donor-conceived children and adults.
- More research into ‘sperm sharing schemes’ is needed to increase donor availability. Such schemes allow male partners of women seeking fertility treatment to donate sperm for DI, which in turn reduces the cost of their IVF treatment.
- Better counselling facilities should be offered by clinics to known donors and their recipients. There is currently inconsistency among clinics on policy in this area.
- The current thresholds for acceptable sperm quality and the maximum age limit of male donors should remain unchanged, so as not to compromise safety standards.
- Patients should be given the option of choosing donors with similar physical characteristics to themselves, such as stature, hair or eye colour.
Dr Mark Hamilton, Chair of the Working Party and Chair of the British Fertility Society said:
“The British Fertility Society believes a nationally co-ordinated approach to the organisation of sperm donation services is essential to improve donor numbers. Sperm donation is a key aspect of assisted reproductive therapy and many couples rely on donors to create a family. However, the number of sperm donors has been steadily declining over the past 15 years, and only a minority of fertility clinics now have the infrastructure to recruit new sperm donors. The „hub and spoke‟ model we have proposed will allow regional centres to deal with the initial management of donors, a point at which many donors are currently lost. With main regional centres focussing on donor management, this will allow local centres to concentrate their resources on recipient services, which should significantly reduce costs. The British Fertility Society now calls on the Department of Health to assist the sector in the implementation of a centrally co-ordinated strategy to address this significant area of health care provision which is currently inadequate to meet current and future service needs.”
Walter Merricks, Chair of the Donor Conception Network said:
“We applaud the initiative taken by the BFS to bring clinics together to cooperate on a national basis in the task of sperm donor recruitment. Recruiting sperm donors needs determination, investment and special skills, and it makes sense that the task should be shared. The currentshortage means that many of those seeking donor insemination treatment are going to clinics overseas. The vast majority of our members would far prefer to be treated locally with a UK donor under the protections afforded by HFEA regulation. We urge all clinics to cooperate in this important initiative.”
Clare Lewis-Jones, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK said:
“We know from the calls we receive from patients needing donor insemination how devastating it is to not be able to access the treatment they need in order to have a family because of the current shortage of sperm donors which in some cases is simply because of where they live. We congratulate the British Fertility Society and our colleagues on the working party on their report and endorse their recommendations. We hope that this initiative will help make a difference in the lives of those needing sperm donation.”
Laura Witjens, Chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust said:
“It is of great concern to the National Gamete Donation Trust that current inefficiencies and inconsistencies in sperm donor recruitment and management mean that patients are not given the best chance. Our experience is that dedicated potential sperm donors are lost on a regular basis because of insufficient care or lack of access.
The implementation of a national framework of sperm donation services, as recommended by the BFS and the Working Party, could potentially increase the number of sperm donors by 35%. In combination with regular public awareness campaigns, this bold proposal may well bring an end to sperm donor shortages in the UK.
We welcome the recommendations of the BFS and the Working Party and applaud them for their vision. The NGDT now calls on the Department of Health and the sector to support this proposal so both donors and patients receive better and more consistent care throughout the UK.”
The Working Party on Sperm Donation Services in the UK was chaired by Dr Mark Hamilton, Chair of the British Fertility Society. The group included representatives from the patient group Infertility Network UK, the National Gamete Donation Trust, and Donor Conception Network. Members of the Department of Health and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority were also in attendance. The findings of this report are also presented as an editorial in this week’s British Medical Journal (2008:337:a2318). The British Fertility Society is committed to promoting good clinical practice and working with patients to provide safe and effective fertility treatment.
Notes for Editors
For more information, please contact the British Fertility Society Press Office
This report is published in Human Fertility 2008, 11(3), 147-158. DOI: 10.1080/14647270802170174. A full copy of the report is availablehere. Human Fertility is the official journal of the British Fertility Society. The findings of this report are also presented as an editorial in this week’s British Medical Journal, 2008; 337: a2318.
The British Fertility Society is a national multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine.
Donor Conception Network are a self-help network of families created with the help of donated eggs, sperm or embryos, people seeking to found a family this way and adults conceived using a donor. For more information, visit http://www.dcnetwork.org
Infertility Network UK are the UK’s leading infertility support network. They offer information and support to anyone affected by fertility problems and campaign to improve awareness and access to treatment. For more information, visithttp://www.infertilitynetworkuk.com/
The National Gamete Donation Trust provides clear and practical information for those considering becoming an egg or sperm donor but also for health professionals and those requiring treatment with donor eggs or sperm. For more information, visithttp://www.ngdt.co.uk/
1 HFEA. 2007. Facts and figures. http://www.hfea.gov.uk/en/1459.html