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Fertility clinics and their patients suffer from HFEA's (lack of) communication strategy

14 November 2011
By Dr Sue Avery
Director, Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre
Appeared in BioNews 633
For those of us engaged in providing treatment for infertility, delivering clear information and managing expectations is a vital part of our activity. The media, on the other hand, has an entirely different set of priorities. Still, thanks to the media, the nation is now aware of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) decision to raise and simplify the current limitations on compensation for gamete donors; egg donors are to receive £750  per cycle and sperm donors £35 per clinic visit.

Compensation for gamete donors, of course, is not a simple issue and there has been considerable debate over the HFEA's new strategy. Such debate should (and doubtlessly will) continue. But from the perspective of a centre struggling to recruit donors, the decision has to be viewed positively.

Many centres have reported an increase in calls from prospective donors – a significant increase, in most cases. In my own centre, the week following the announcement saw as many contacts from potential egg donors as we would normally expect in a year. If we put concerns about donors' motivations aside for a minute, this is very welcome, considering our waiting list.

Dealing with greater numbers of donors requires increased resources, but in the main this is a problem we are happy to have.

There is, however, a further problem which is less welcome. While the general public has been well informed about the changes, there has been no direct communication with licensed centres, and no clear indication of when the regulations will change. As a result we are having difficulty dealing with this wave of enthusiasm.

Yes, we tell potential donors, the system will be changing, but we do not know when. Hence there is a fear that the interest gained by this wave of publicity will be wasted unless details of a timeframe are released very soon. Not only do we need to know the date but in order to maximise the impact of the media coverage, we need the change to take place sooner rather than later, for several reasons.

The first is obvious. The waiting time for patients requiring donated gametes can stretch into years and the sooner we can move to reduce this time, the better. An earlier date would give us the best chance of recruiting those potential donors who contacted us in the wake of the publicity, before their interest wanes.

A third reason only became apparent after the announcement was made. There have been cancellations from egg donors about to start embark on a cycle who now prefer to wait for the regulations to come into effect. This way, they will receive more appropriate compensation.

So the HFEA's reticence to communicate with licensed clinics has implications not only for patients who may wish to receive treatment in the future but also those whose treatment had previously been scheduled, often after a lengthy wait for a donor.

I would therefore like to make a plea for two things: firstly, a coordinated communication strategy so that when announcements like this are made through the press, licensed centres are briefed at the same time. The media coverage gifted us a free recruitment campaign which a briefing to centres with a proposed timeframe could have built upon. Secondly, consideration should be given to expediting the change in regulation – not only for the sake of our waiting patients, but also for those poised on the brink of treatment.

It is the role of the media to spread the word. It is the role of the licensed centres to manage the expectations of patients and donors. With the right guidance a constructive synergy is possible.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
9 July 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
The majority of egg donors donate for altruistic reasons, although personal benefits such as financial compensation are also a factor, according to a large European study...
24 October 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has decided that donors should be paid fixed sums, and that these sums should be £35 per clinic visit for sperm donors and £750 per cycle of donation for egg donors...
24 October 2011 - by Walter Merricks 
Perhaps the Government is right to plan to abolish the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The astonishing behaviour of its members at last week's open Authority meeting over compensation for egg and sperm donors will lower its reputation in the eyes of some of its erstwhile supporters. Those who might have manned the barricades to halt the Government's plans may now wonder whether the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the health and social care regulator set to take over the H...
30 September 2011 - by Dr Kamal Ahuja 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has already made two decisions following its public consultation and review of gamete donation policies in the UK: first, intra-familial gamete donation can continue as before (subject to certain provisions); and second, the number of families which a single donor might help create remains limited to ten. The bigger question on compensation and benefit in kind to donors will not be answered until later this year...
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