PET survey reveals public support for funding NHS fertility treatment

A UK survey has revealed that there is a considerable amount of public support for funding NHS fertility treatment and that many men are willing to donate sperm to help others have a family

PET, the independent fertility and genomics charity, has marked its thirtieth birthday by looking at the UK attitudes towards issues around fertility treatment of more than 2,000 people.

The report entitled ‘Fertility, Genomics and Embryo Research: Public Attitudes and Understanding’ has revealed an openness to helping others with NHS funding and sperm donation.

Two-thirds of respondents (67%) supported the provision of NHS-funded fertility treatment to people who are infertile and wish to conceive.

This support stands in stark contrast to the availability of NHS funding in England where the majority of Clinical Commissioning Groups (89.9%) do not offer the NICE-recommended three full IVF cycles to clinically eligible women under 40.

Sarah Norcross, director of PET, said the survey delivers a strong message to the government.

She said: “The commissioning of fertility services needs to catch up with public opinion.

“These survey results send a strong message to Government, NHS England, and commissioning bodies to take action. Infertility is not a lifestyle choice nor a luxury, it is a recognised medical condition that impacts people’s physical and mental well-being, affecting not just the individual or couple but their wider family.

“The postcode-lottery approach is unfair and unjustifiable, and we hope that the government’s upcoming Women’s Heath Strategy will tackle this issue’ added Norcross.

‘While we welcome the government’s recognition of access disparities throughout England and reassurances in response to recent parliamentary questions, the fact remains that CCGs have no stringent obligation to follow NICE guidance. It is therefore unclear how that major bottleneck will be addressed in practice without government intervention.”

Sperm donation

The survey also found that 53 percent of male respondents would consider donating their sperm. This is a hugely positive finding indicating a willingness by men to donate sperm to help others have a family.

Despite this goodwill, the latest data from the HFEA shows that over 75 percent of sperm used in the UK is from overseas donors.

Sarah said: “Action needs to be taken so that men’s willingness to donate is not wasted. The ability to access donor sperm through a licensed clinic is particularly important given the increase in the use of unregulated online donations which have resulted in women being exposed to unnecessary risks such as STIs and having children born with genetic conditions. As a third of infertility is down to men sperm donation is often a crucial step in helping family-building journeys.

‘In Scotland, there is a clear pathway for donation and a recruitment drive for sperm donors. England needs to learn from this initiative so that men who wish to donate can.”

Professor Allan Pacey, who works closely with PET, said: “Importing sperm from regulated sperm banks outside the UK is a perfectly safe and lawful solution to the UK’s sperm shortages. However, it does suggest 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. We need to look again at ways to try and make it easier for men who would like to be considered as sperm donors to be able to able to register their interest and, if accepted, be able to donate more easily than is currently possible.”

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