In 2002 the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) was consulted about the effects of removal of anonymity and we took guidance from what happened in other countries where the same change in legislation had taken place. An initial decline was expected but with an awareness campaign and a change in processes numbers would go up again.
The number of sperm donors HAS dropped dramatically lately, BUT not everywhere. Some clinics have continued to do well and others have changed practices accordingly and have seen their numbers increase. To understand why this is and to see if an individual clinic's success can be copied we need a better appreciation of the problem. Failing to tackle the root causes and blaming one relatively recent one will only worsen the crisis.
It is important to remember that, with or without the removal of anonymity, there have never been enough gamete donors in the UK to meet the demand. One of the main problems continues to be lack of awareness. This can be illustrated clearly by the increase in enquiries to the NGDT following the article. For the month of July (1st - 29th), we had received eight enquiries from potential sperm donors - but since 30 July, we have had 45 (and still counting) potential sperm donors who have contacted us for advice and information.
Creating awareness needs money and a pro-active positive approach from all involved. Whether we like it or not the press has a huge role to play. Positive and inspirational personal stories makes potential donors pick up the phone. Criticism about the current state of affairs sends out the wrong signal; it doesn't get results and it most certainly doesn't inspire potential donors.
Another important cause is the treatment of the donors. The clinics that have recognised the importance of 'good customer service' and have adjusted to the new type of donor are doing well. The successful recruiting clinics have accepted the change in legislation and are motivated and dedicated in actively recruiting donors. Personnel have been employed solely for gamete donation recruitment and therefore provide continuity for recipients. 'Small' practical things seem to make a big difference - for example, their phone messages being returned, information being sent when promised and a receptionist who doesn't ask questions. This is not always feasible and for many clinics, we have agreed to be the first point of contact for potential donors. This way, we can take the pressure off the busy clinics and staff to answer questions from potential donors and potential recipients and then send them basic information on the procedures, treatments and what is involved in donating/receiving gametes.
A third major factor is vicinity. Some clinics stopped recruiting and there is no even spread of 'sperm banks' across the UK. It is very frustrating that at least 30 per cent of the people interested in donating live or work too far from a clinic. The set-up of independent regional banks committed to supplying clinics in a specific area is an initiative supported by the NGDT.
What gamete donation in the UK needs is a 'can-do' attitude from healthcare and other involved professionals, support organisations and patients. We need to learn from the clinics that do well and gain confidence from their success. More and more donors will come forward if we collectively dare to change the way we work.
The National Gamete Donation Trust was founded in 1998 to raise awareness of, and to alleviate the shortages of, the national shortages of sperm, egg and embryo donors. We work closely with clinics, donors, recipients, other professional organisations and the media to raise awareness and to provide impartial and confidential information to all.
We work within the UK legislation and therefore provide enquirers with details of the UK licensed clinics and whenever people ask about going abroad for gametes/treatment, we advise them to research extensively and then make an informed decision, based on knowing what happens here and what happens abroad.
We run a National Helpline (0845 226 9193) and all calls, messages and emails are treated confidentially - our opening times are: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9.00am - 5.00pm and Tuesday and Thursday 11.00am - 7.00pm.