An overwhelming majority of infertility patients in the UK said they would contemplate travelling abroad for fertility treatment, according to the first comprehensive study on the strength and motivations behind the fertility tourism industry. Among the 339 infertile patients who responded to an online poll conducted by Infertility Network UK, 76 per cent stated they would be willing to seek fertility treatment outside the UK with 70 per cent citing their reasons would be to avoid higher costs and long wait-lists at UK clinics. Infertility Network UK performed the survey for this year's National Infertility Day on Saturday, 19 July 2008, when it announced its findings at a conference in central London.
Other popular reasons provided by the patients for why they might prefer to receive fertility treatment abroad were high success rates (61 per cent) and the greater availability of donor eggs and sperm (54 per cent). The UK has suffered a decline in the number of egg and sperm donors since removing donor anonymity by law in 2005. The 24 per cent opposed to treatment in overseas clinics were commonly concerned about lower standards, lack of regulation and language-barrier difficulties.
Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK, blames the current 'appalling' difficulties - such as 'postcode lottery' arbitrary provision - that infertile couples face in Britain in order to access fertility assistance: 'If the NHS funded three full cycles of treatment as recommended by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), many couples would not be forced to consider going abroad for treatment', she said. She warned that regulations can be totally different for foreign fertility clinics and it is 'absolutely vital' for individuals to do 'thorough research beforehand'.
Yet the study revealed an 88 per cent level of satisfaction from those who received treatment abroad, reportedly not only due to lower costs, shorter waiting-lists and successful pregnancy rates but also due to general staff attitude, atmosphere and state of the facilities. Clare Brown added that she hopes 'that clinics in the UK take into account the findings of this survey and learn from the good experiences many couples have had at clinics abroad'.
Among those who were dissatisfied, 47 per cent experienced problems due to language and communication difficulties and 37 per cent due to unregulated practice. Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated, 'The Government is working directly with Infertility Network UK, as well as experts in the NHS to ensure the needs of people with fertility problems are recognised and addressed'.
This Friday, 25 July, marks the birthday of Louise Brown, who was the world's first IVF-conceived child born in England. Thirty years onward, roughly 3.5 million IVF-assisted babies have been born worldwide, averaging at least 200,000 annually. However, infertile individuals in the UK are among the least likely in the developed sperm world to receive IVF with one of the lowest annual IVF performance rates in Europe - under 700 per million Britons. In 2005 just 1.6 per cent of total births were assisted pregnancies compared with rates of 3-3.5 per cent in Scandinavia.
A special-focus Economist article attributed the low statistics to the lack of public funding available and the low-priority ascribed to infertility as a medical condition in the UK. Only nine out of the 152 local primary-care trusts provide the three recommended IVF cycles. In 2005, two-thirds of the IVF cycles performed in Britain were privately funded.