At 66 years old, Elizabeth Adeney is set to become Britain's oldest mother when she gives birth to a child conceived following fertility treatment at a clinic in Ukraine. The example highlights the growing trend among fertility patients to travel abroad to access treatment which in Britain often involves high cost and a long wait.
A new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the first academic inquiry of its kind, is being undertaken by Lorraine Culley, professor at the Health and Social Sciences department of De Montfort University, UK. It aims to give a clearer indication of the number of British 'fertility tourists' visiting clinics in countries like Spain, Greece, Russia, the US and India. 'Women here do this for all sorts of reasons. There is a serious shortage of eggs, donated sperm is in shorter supply than before, the cost can be cheaper abroad and some people want IVF which they can't get on the NHS', said Culley.
The only previous study into fertility treatment abroad was conducted in 2008 by patient support group Infertility Network UK (IN UK) and surveyed more than 300 fertility patients, some of whom had already received foreign services. More than three quarters of respondents said that they would consider treatment abroad, with lower costs and shorter waiting times being cited as deciding factors.
Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society (BFS) also estimates that thousands of women travel abroad for treatment every year because of frustration with waiting times for donated gametes. Professor Culley believes that couples who go abroad are able to exploit the fact that in some countries women can be paid to donate their eggs.
Of the 24 per cent in the IN UK survey who said they would not consider going abroad to be treated, language difficulties and a lack of regulation were the main concerns. However, those respondents who had already been treated abroad said that in addition to lower cost and speedier treatment, high success rates, staff attitudes and the atmosphere and facilities in clinics abroad were the main attractions; 88 per cent were happy with the treatment they received.
British fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has warned that procedures at foreign clinics may not be safe, that success rates may be exaggerated and children born may never be able to discover anything about their half-siblings: 'there are clear risks' said a spokesman.
However, chief executive of Infertility Network UK Clare Lewis-Jones said that 'if the NHS funded three full cycles of treatment as recommended by NICE, many couples would not be forced to consider going abroad for treatment... I do hope clinics in the UK take into consideration the findings of this survey and learn from the good experiences many couples have had at clinics abroad'.