Sperm banks in the UK are in the midst of a 'crisis' because of a lack of sperm donors, a BBC investigation has found. The BBC contacted 84 NHS and private fertility clinics across the country, as well as the one specialist sperm bank, receiving 74 responses. Fifty of the clinics replied saying that they currently were getting 'no sperm' donated, or were having 'great difficulties' in getting any. The specialist sperm bank said that it did still have stocks of sperm, but that the number of men donating sperm had fallen. Many of the clinics reported waiting times of at least six months for couples needing donor sperm, and some said that they were having to turn patients away.
The BBC said that the number of registered sperm donors has been falling since the 1990s, when a high of 459 donors were registered. According to another survey conducted by the Independent newspaper earlier this year, in the year 2000 there were 325 sperm donors newly registered with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), but in the first six months of 2005, only 99 men were registered. Total figures for 2005 will be available later this year. Across the UK as few as 10 new donors are found each month, down from up to 32 a month before the legal change. The BBC survey has now found that 90 per cent of all registered donors attended just 10 clinics across the country. Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society (BFS), called the current situation a crisis.
Some fertility clinics are blaming the crisis on the Government's 2004 decision to change the law on the anonymity of donors. Children of people who donated sperm after April 2005 are now legally entitled to track down their biological fathers once they turn 18. This abolition of anonymity has also led to tens of thousands of vials of healthy sperm being destroyed because the donors have not agreed to be identified.
Dr Pacey said that the lack of sperm donors will inevitably result in some couples being unable to receive treatment for their infertility, especially when coupled with tough regulations on the import of sperm form other countries. 'Sadly, some will go without and sadly that may be the end of donor treatments as we have known it', he added. He went on to say that many patients become desperate. 'If they are unable to get treatment in their local clinic, then they are looking to other sources', he said, adding that 'some are getting flights to other European countries, others may turn to Internet sites that are providing sperm for home insemination. There are signs of desperation and I thoroughly understand them'.
Dr Mark Hamilton, chair of the BFS, said that a working party has been established to look into the crisis, which will later make recommendations to the Department of Health. 'One solution may be the development of a nationally co-ordinated donor recruitment service, managed through a number of adequately resourced recruitment centres, to meet the urgent needs of our patients, many of whom remain distressed by yet another example of postcode variation in quality and availability of fertility services throughout the country', he added.
A spokesman for the HFEA acknowledged there had been a steady downward trend in donors since the late 1990s but said that this came 'long before changes to the anonymity law were discussed'. He added that the HFEA had highlighted the donor shortage problem in June of this year, and urged clinics to do more to recruit donors.