Dr Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield is collaborating with researchers from De Montfort University (DMU) and other academics from the University of Huddersfield and Swansea University in a study interviewing people about their reasons for seeking fertility treatment overseas and their experiences of it.
The study findings show that 71 per cent of those interviewed stated they went abroad to seek fertility treatment using donor gametes. From this, 46 per cent of couples were having treatment with donor eggs, 12 per cent using donor sperm, 10 per cent using donor egg and sperm and three per cent using donor embryos.
The cost of treatment in the UK was another significant reason why some people sought treatment abroad, since most IVF is not funded by the NHS and can cost a minimum of £4,500.
Seventy eight per cent of those going abroad had already received treatment in the UK before deciding to go overseas and the majority reported that their experience of overseas clinics was very positive, with high standards of care.
Spain was the most popular place to seek treatment, followed by the Czech Republic and the USA.
Professor Lorraine Culley from DMU, lead researcher on the project, said: “The extent of patient travel is still unknown, but our research shows that a need for donors is an important factor in the decision many people make to seek fertility treatment outside the UK.
“The research has also helped to dispel some of the myths that have been associated with having fertility treatment aboard. To date, it has often been assumed that women who seek treatment in other countries do so because they are too old to be treated in the UK. It has also been reported that if they become pregnant, they place a burden on the NHS by giving birth to twins or triplets.
“Our research suggests that this is not always the case. The average age of women having treatment among our participants was 38.9 years, and only 19 per cent of participants who had successful treatment experienced a multiple pregnancy. This compares favourably with the most recent figure of 23 per cent for multiple pregnancies following IVF treatment in the UK.”
In January 2010 Dr Pacey published a paper showing that the number of donor-assisted conceptions in the UK had been falling in recent years and warning that couples may be forced to go overseas for treatment with donor sperm. Latest figures show that in 2007 the lowest number of patients ever (1,779) received treatment with donor sperm.
Dr Pacey said: “The UK is really in a serious situation with regard to the availability of sperm and egg donors and it is quite shocking to think that UK citizens may be forced to go overseas for fertility treatment in order to get around our national shortfall.”
The preliminary results of the study will be presented by Professor Culley at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) conference in Rome on 29 June 2010.
Notes for Editors: The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
For more information about becoming an egg or sperm donor in the UK, visit www.ngdt.co.uk or call 0845 226 9193.
For more information on the project please visit http://www.transrep.co.uk/
In 2008 the British Fertility Society published a report which called for a national infrastructure to improve donor recruitment in