The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has reported a 6 per cent rise in the number of men registering as sperm donors in the twelve months from April 2005, when changes in law removed the right to anonymity of sperm, egg and embryo donors.
It had been feared that the changes in the law would dramatically reduce the number of men willing to donate sperm, for fear that they could be identified in years to come. This would have further exacerbated the sperm shortages being experienced across the UK, following on from a ten year decline in donor numbers. At one point last year, there was only one active donor covering the whole of Scotland.
The HFEA revealed that 265 sperm donors registered in the 12 months to March 2006, compared to 250 the previous year. HFEA chair, Shirley Harrison, said that 'these new figures show the predicted drop in sperm donor numbers is a myth. Professionals working in the sector say there are a complex set of reasons which led to the fall in donor numbers from 1997 onwards'.
The chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), Laura Witjens, stressed the need for continued focus on recruiting egg and sperm donors. She said 'these statistics give hope and show we are on the right path regarding the sperm donors, but a lot more needs to be done to recruit egg donors'. Ms Witjens also commented that despite the increase in sperm donors, the numbers were still far below the 500 needed to meet demand.
Dr Mark Hamilton, chair of the British Fertility Society (BFS), expressed concern over the number of sperm donation services in the UK. He said that BFS was aware of several centres that had withdrawn DI (donor insemination) services to patients, and that costs of treatment and waiting times had increased. The BFS has formed a working party, with representations from the Department of Health, HFEA, patients, and providers, which will report with an analysis of the present situation and recommendations for services.
Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK (INUK), welcomed the increase in donors, but warned that, due to ongoing donor shortages, many clinics were unable to treat patients or even put them on a waiting list for donor services. Ms Brown attributed the steady decline in numbers of donors to the removal of anonymity, which was first discussed in 1997 and 1998. She called for an ongoing national campaign to increase donor numbers 'backed up with the infrastructure to support them and give patients the opportunity to have their treatment without waiting years or being forced to consider going abroad for treatment'.