The shortage of egg and sperm donors, and the cost of IVF in the UK, need to be addressed to reduce the number of people travelling abroad for fertility treatment, according to a report published this week.
The recommendations follow research undertaken as part of the Transnational Reproduction (Transrep) project, which aims to improve understanding of cross-border reproductive travel from the UK perspective.
Lead researcher, Professor Lorraine Culley said: 'The recommendations from the Transrep study are aimed at addressing concerns both with the current provision of fertility treatment in the UK, especially the shortage of donors, as well as making suggestions to help safe-guard those who decide to cross borders in their quest for a child'.
In their work Professor Culley and Dr Nicky Hudson from De Montfort University emphasise the need for a properly funded strategy to raise awareness of donor shortages, and to improve recruitment and supply. This could include an accessible central database, providing information about donor location and availability and the waiting times for particular clinics.
In their key findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, they stress that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines should be fully implemented. These state that three full cycles of infertility treatment should be provided on the NHS, and costs should be kept down for those who have to pay.
The document also recommends measures to ensure good practice in the treatment of those who choose to go abroad. These included the provision of objective information on travelling abroad for treatment.
'Our research demonstrates that people have varied reasons for travelling abroad and that fertility travellers do not conform to media stereotypes', said Professor Culley. 'Most felt that the UK could not offer them either timely or affordable treatment and in some cases people were unhappy with treatment they had previously received in UK centres'.
Several of the patients in the study welcomed the idea of shared care between UK and overseas clinics, but found it difficult to find information about which UK clinics offered this service. The researchers therefore recommended that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA) should provide information about which clinics have overseas links.
The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) has a 'good practice guide' for centres treating foreign patients in the UK. To protect patients, families and donors from potential exploitation and inappropriate treatment the researchers recommended these be properly employed. It also suggests that, in the longer term, a system of benchmarking and accrediting clinics should be developed.