The UK National Sperm Bank (NSB) is no longer recruiting donors, after signing up just eight men in the two years since it opened.
The sperm bank cited a lack of funds needed to recruit new donors. It had been set up in October 2014 with a £77,000 start-up grant from the Department of Health (see BioNews 778).
'One of the lessons learned from running the NSB is that the level of ongoing investment required for successful donor recruitment is beyond the resources of a small charity,' said Charles Lister, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), which set up the sperm bank jointly with Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre.
In its first year, the NSB ran a national advertising campaign to recruit sperm donors (see BioNews 818), with the goal of becoming self-sufficient within one year. But it can take 12 to 18 months from the start of recruitment before sufficient revenue comes in for a sperm bank to be sustainable, and the NSB had no source of revenue in its second year to continue recruiting. It recruited just eight donors, one of whom has since dropped out.
Potential donors first had to go through a screening process – only donors free from inherited or infectious diseases, and whose samples are of sufficient quality after freezing, were accepted. This means that out of 'every 100 men who enquire about being a donor, only 4 or 5 are ultimately accepted', Professor Allan Pacey, told The Telegraph.
Lister also explained that many sperm donors drop out of the process when they realise what's involved, as they may be required to visit the clinic ten to 15 times, and must abstain from sex for 48 hours before every donation.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says there are 85 clinics in the UK that are licensed to perform sperm donor insemination. The London Sperm Bank, for example, charges £950 to its clients, while the NSB had planned to charge £400.
Donations from the existing seven donors will be processed by the Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre.
The Department of Health said in a statement: 'We gave a one-off start-up grant to help set up the National Sperm Bank, and while the number of donations have not been sufficient to support it continuing to seek new donors, this will have no impact on people being able to access safe egg and sperm donation services.'
Lister said that the NSB had succeeded in one respect. Speaking of the number of men who came forward following their advertising campaign, he said: 'The NSB has demonstrated that, given the right level of targeted information, more men are willing to become donors and give the precious gift of life.'