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Knowing your donor: How can we best recruit and keep donors?

7 April 2014
By Dr Ruth Curson
Chair, National Gamete Donation Trust
Appeared in BioNews 749

Sadly, there are currently not enough egg and sperm donors in the UK to meet our needs. Recipients are now seeking alternative routes to find donors, either by travelling abroad or from unregulated internet sites: both with the potential for unwanted consequences.

We at the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) are charged with raising awareness of the need for gamete donation. We know that, despite concerns, the numbers of new egg and sperm donor registrations have risen since the removal of anonymity in 2006 (1). Britain is the only country in Europe where removal of anonymity has not led to a decline in gamete donation. However, the number of potential recipients has also increased and so we need to find ways to recruit even more donors. Once we have helped clinics recruit donors, we need to be satisfied that the donors will receive the sort of attention in the clinics that will encourage them to persist and complete a course of donation. Otherwise all our efforts will be wasted.

There is very little information on how many donors drop out along the way, and why. If we knew why potential donors changed their minds then maybe we could share this information with the recruiting clinics and reduce the number of donors who get disheartened and do not proceed.

To this end, in May 2011 the NGDT set up a series of questionnaires: one for sperm donors; one for egg donors; and one for potential donors (donors who offered to donate and in the end decided not to go ahead). As far as we know, this represents the first attempt to gather information directly and anonymously from donors.

The survey was devised by Dr Laura Machin, Lecturer in Ethics at Lancaster University Medical School, and ran until August 2012. The results were then analysed by Dr Machin. The full report can be read here.

In summary, 153 people completed the questionnaire: 72 egg donors (with differences between altruistic and shared egg donors examined); 48 sperm donors; and 33 potential donors. However, because we did not specify that respondents should have donated between May 2011 and August 2012, the data may have come from donors who donated before. This means we are unable to say accurately what proportion of gamete donators during that period responded to the survey.

The key findings of the survey included that donors reported it was often difficult to get good, upfront information on the structure for reimbursement, leaving them embarrassed to ask and that most donors felt they should be reimbursed. Donors also reported difficulty with getting time off from their other commitments to attend the clinics and they requested more flexible clinic hours. Donors requested that information was more readily available about the outcome of their donation.

The findings also showed that, in general, donors were positive about their donation in UK clinics. Respondents said the relationship between a donor and the clinic staff was key to the success of the donation and that, specifically, a single point of contact in the clinic and prompt service both impacted positively on the donors' experience. Donors did not feel the process ended with the donation itself. The need to have their feelings considered was also expressed and a number of respondents requested further opportunities for counselling.

The remit of the NGDT also includes ensuring that clinics have systems in place to give donors the best possible care and we are developing an accreditation mark (Donor Centres of Excellence) and are in the process of putting it into place. To validate this system we need to take into account what donors tell us makes them most likely to complete donation.

So we would like to strengthen our data and ensure that it continues to be up-to-date. For that reason, we are re-opening the survey and intend to report on the results annually. By doing this, we hope to gather data from a more representative number of donors. We have added a question to determine the dates over which they donated. We want as many donors and potential donors as possible to give us their views.

We would be grateful if any BioNews readers could alert any donors that come their way to these surveys and ask for their help in giving us their opinion. The surveys can be reached via this link.

Recruiting clinics need more donors and need to retain those who offer to donate. We hope by hearing from as many donors as possible we can more accurately advise clinics about what donors want from them. Measuring is knowing, and knowing is improving.

1) HFEA - New donor registrations
HFEA |  28 January 2013
3 August 2015 - by Ayala Ochert 
Two women in Japan have received eggs from donors who are strangers – the first time this has happened in the country, following approval by an ethics committee earlier this year...
27 April 2015 - by Ari Haque 
A man who provided sperm to a female friend who then used it to conceive without sexual intercourse has been awarded parental rights by the Virginia Court of Appeals in the USA...
11 August 2014 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
The first national sperm bank is to be opened in England this October after receiving a £77,000 grant from the Department of Health...
14 July 2014 - by Olivia Montuschi 
Danish sperm accounts for a third of the sperm imported into the UK. But does it matter that so many children are being created with 'Viking' sperm?...
17 June 2014 - by Kate Brian 
Produced by the National Gamete Donation Trust, 'Letters to my donor' is a collection of letters from parents who have undergone or who are undergoing IVF using donor sperm or eggs to their gamete donor...
20 May 2013 - by Olivia Montuschi 
In addressing egg-donation dad-to-be Ben Saer's points in his BioNews article, it is hard to know where to start. Good parenting is of course supportive and protective, but it does not resolve the desire of some people to know more about who helped create them...
5 July 2010 - by Seil Collins 
Expensive UK fertility treatment and long waiting times related to a shortage of egg and sperm donors are the major reasons people seek fertility treatment abroad, according to the first academic study into cross-border reproductive care....
21 July 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
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...
30 June 2008 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The number of recorded sperm donations in the UK has fallen to the lowest level since anonymity was removed from donors in April 2005, say officials. Figures published in the Times newspaper show that there was a decline of about 20 per cent in the number...
22 October 2005 - by BioNews 
Professor Eric Blyth, speaking at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference in Montreal this week, presented an analysis of a UK Department of Health survey of sperm and egg donors, which shows that loss of donor anonymity could potentially halve the number of people donating. In April, a...
Shameful misrepresentation of facts ( - 14/04/2014)
This article says "Sadly, there are currently not enough egg and sperm donors in the UK to meet our needs. "  This is not like having a shortage of kidneys or livers where people will die if they don't get a transplant.  There is NO NEED for anyone to donate their gametes.  Gametes are never transplanted and they never serve to improve the reproductive function of the recipients body.  The donated gamete continues to serve the reproductive function of the body of the donor by producing the donors offspring.  All they are doing is making the donor's children to be raised by other people and there is definitely NO NEED to make children to be abandoned so they can be raised by other people.  There are plenty of abandoned children as it is.

This article states "There is very little information on how many donors drop out along the way, and why. If we knew why potential donors changed their minds then maybe we could share this information with the recruiting clinics and reduce the number of donors who get disheartened and do not proceed."  The rest of society calls it responsible reproductive behavior when people only have children they wish to raise.  We discourage people from having unprotected sex and offer public funds for families in financial straits to keep their children and prevent them from turning to adoption in all but the most dire of circumstances.  We need to keep families together not separate them.  

The article says that donors felt they should be reimbursed but it does not say what they want to be reimbursed for nor does the article tal about the system for producing receipts to prove that they had expenses to be paid back for like parking receipts or train tickets.  The article says they have difficulty with getting time off from their other commitments to attend the clinics and they requested more flexible clinic hours which shows they are not needing to be paid back for time off work.  Also if they are taking time off work it is likely paid sick or vacation days in which case they would not need to be reimbursed and if money is given to them they would actually be making money or income and that should not be allowed.  If it is truly a donation they should get a receipt that they can deduct from their taxes and the clinic should be registered as a not for profit charity, correct?
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