In July 2014, the Department of Health announced that it had awarded the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) funding to set up an independent National Sperm Bank in partnership with Birmingham Women's Hospital (BWH).
A world first, the National Sperm Bank is due to launch in October 2014. It will be based at BWH as the single NHS-funded hub, with spokes across England later on. Donor recruitment, information and availability for all of the other centres will be coordinated from one location. Birmingham Women's Hospital is ideally placed as a leader in its field and its location to offer an accessible and fully integrated donor recruitment, screening and banking centre with donors coming from its youthful and culturally diverse population.
As a former patient - and now parent - who has had to consider and navigate the legal, social, ethical and financial complexities of using a sperm donor and who has had fertility treatments within NHS and private units in England, I believe that the National Sperm Bank will be of benefit to donors, the donor conceived, clinics and patients.
Increased demand for donor sperm combined with a national shortage in the UK, especially in NHS clinics, means treating those who need it has been a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few options and find themselves on waiting lists, having to use unregulated providers, importing sperm, travelling abroad for treatment or having to stop treatment altogether.
To meet this ever-increasing demand for donor sperm, it is hoped that the introduction of the National Sperm Bank will provide safe, equitable and increased access for all to consistently high quality sperm.
The need for a sperm bank operating within both a national framework and context has been long recognised by many in the fertility sector. In 2008, the British Fertility Society's Workgroup recommended that against a backdrop of declining availability of sperm donation services, a nationally coordinated approach was required to ensure equity of access for patients.
There has been much recent media coverage about our increased dependency on importing Danish and other foreign sperm. A focus, in particular, on 'Danish - great guys and good looks' would suggest that perhaps our men just aren't up to the job, which is not the case at all. The issue has been one of infrastructure. The Danish system focuses on donor recruitment and excellent customer service for involved parties – donor, clinics and patients. Whereas in the UK, until now, with the exception of a handful of clinics, recruiting donors on a small scale just hasn't been working. The reality is that for the majority of clinics, developing a slick sales and marketing strategy for donor sperm has not been a priority.
By working with BWH, with its proven track record, NHS and private clinics needing to buy donor sperm will now have easy access to information about available donors combined with an effective and efficient ordering and shipping process.
While the National Sperm Bank will undoubtedly benefit thousands of patients affected by infertility, it is also set to improve the way sperm donors are treated by listening to and caring about their needs. Donors are often told that what they are doing is kind, generous and special, yet NGDT's Donor Satisfaction Survey reports that their actual experiences during the clinic donation process are that they don't feel valued and respected. Personalised care, sensitivity and demonstrating an appreciation for donors' altruism through words and actions will be an integral part of the National Sperm Bank.
This will be achieved by building upon BWH's existing services, recruiting further exceptional staff and using the NGDT's expertise to increase the number of donors coming forward. Birmingham Women's Hospital is also in the process of becoming an accredited NGDT Donor Centre of Excellence.
Those who use and donate to the National Sperm Bank do so with the intention of creating another life, someone who will have a full range of emotions and feelings. A regulated National Sperm Bank in this country within our legislative framework will ensure that those conceived in this way will have access to their donor's details and will also mean that the number of half-siblings is limited by our policy of a donor cap on the provision of sperm to 10 families.
At its heart the National Sperm Bank is all about listening, valuing and treating human beings with respect whoever they may be within the donor conception triangle.