A new report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has identified how fertility treatment is being used in the UK by single patients as well as heterosexual and female same-sex couples.
The 'Family formations in fertility treatment' report shows that although heterosexual couples still account for around 90 percent of all fertility patients, other patient groups are now turning to IVF too. In 2018, female same-sex couples underwent 2151 IVF treatment cycles, compared to 320 in 2008, and single women had 1352 IVF cycles in 2018 as opposed to 531 in 2008.
Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, said: 'In recent years, we've seen changes in the reasons why people are using fertility treatment, with the biggest percentage increases amongst those in female same-sex relationships and single women.'
'It is striking to see how the use of IVF has grown in popularity over the last decade both in female same-sex relationships and for single women,' said Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (PET), the charity which publishes BioNews. 'However, how much of the growth in the use of IVF over donor insemination (via intrauterine insemination (IUI)) has been driven by the hurdles that females in same-sex relationships face when trying to access NHS-funded fertility treatment?'
According to the report, 39 percent of IVF cycles for heterosexual relationships were funded by the NHS, while only 14 percent were funded for female same-sex relationships. Furthermore, IVF funding for female same-sex couples varied considerably across the UK. For example, 3.4 percent received NHS funding in the South East of England, 5.7 percent in London, 13.2 percent in the East Midlands, 21.6 percent in Wales, and 39.7 percent in Scotland.
Norcross explained: 'Most female same-sex couples are told they must demonstrate their infertility, and the way to do this is by having six rounds of IUI which they must fund themselves; after six unsuccessful cycles, they may be eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment. Not surprisingly, many female same-sex couples opt to pay instead for IVF as the quicker, sometimes cheaper, option.'
Jessica Holden, senior policy officer at Stonewall, said: 'Questions should be raised regarding the disparity in funding for IVF cycles, to address the current inequalities and provide equal access to fertility treatment for female same-sex couples.'
The report also highlighted that the highest birth rates per embryo transferred were recorded for female same-sex couples at 31 percent, followed by heterosexual couples at 23 percent, while for single women it fell to 17 percent. The birth rates for single women may be lower because they tend to be older: the average age of heterosexual couples having IVF was 35, while for single women it was 39. In addition, almost 2000 egg-freezing cycles were carried out in 2018, and 55 percent of women freezing their eggs were single.
'Any patient, regardless of their background or partner type should receive high quality, evidence-based treatment to help them create their families,' concluded Cheshire.