UK fertility clinics get the thumbs down from those who have experienced clinics both here and abroad. They are expensive and do not meet the needs of users for a more personalised form of care. These are some of the findings from a report released today by a group of academics based at De Montfort University, Leicester into going abroad for fertility treatment. The ‘Transrep project’ or more formally Transnational Reproduction: An exploratory study of UK residents who travel abroad for fertility treatment interviewed 15 key informants (including myself) and then 51 people (41 women and ten male partners) who had experienced fertility treatment abroad or were well advanced in their preparation to do so.
Findings punctured some common media promoted myths about those who go overseas for conception. There were no women in their sixties – the range of those interviewed was 29 to 46, people were not looking to make ‘designer’ babies and no-one was wanting to select the sex of their child. Many people commented, however, on how badly UK clinics compared to their counterparts in Spain, Czech Republic, US and several other countries. Anecdotal accounts from members and others who have spoken to us at DC Network absolutely support dissatisfaction with the unresponsiveness of many UK clinics to telephone and email communication and being treated like a number rather than a person who needs care and support…and this is largely in the private sector where fees are astronomical.
Seventy-one per cent of the sample were having treatment with donor gametes, usually egg donation. They largely gave shortage of gametes in the UK or a wish for an anonymous donor as reasons for going abroad (although there were others too), but cost was an important factor as well.
Recommendations towards reducing the demand for overseas travel include the importance of understanding more about shortages of donated gametes in the UK; a properly funded recruitment strategy to raise awareness and co-ordinate a donor supply infrastructure; full implementation of the NICE guidelines giving three full cycles of IVF throughout the UK and lastly, for all UK clinics and professions concerned, the need to work to ensure a consistently positive patient experience in UK clinics. There are also recommendations for facilitating good practice and safeguarding patients.
What does not appear in the report, but is evidenced in calls and emails to DC Network, is the practice by many UK clinics of informing users that egg donation in the UK means a waiting time of at least two years. Whilst this may be the case at some clinics, there are many others where waiting times vary between six and nine months and can be as low as two months. Commercial competition between clinics – or simple ignorance of the situation elsewhere in the UK – prevents this information being passed on and many couples and individuals feel they have no choice but to seek treatment elsewhere. Information given by a trusted professional is hard to challenge, but the fertility doctor’s place in the sun as God of creation is being replaced by doctors in sunnier climes who do not behave like remote beings from another planet, but welcome a relationship of equality with well informed users of their services.
As conceiving in the UK gives rights to children that they do not get from most countries abroad, we need clinics here to up their game – improving responsiveness, facilities and respect for their users. We also need clear information, available to all, on which UK clinics are successfully recruiting gamete donors. And would it be too much to ask them to share good practice?
The full ‘Transrep’ report and recommendations can be found at http://www.transrep.co.uk
DC Network guidance on Donor Conception Treatment Outside the UK http://www.dcnetwork.org – link from home page.