Result! At one of the morning workshops at the HFEA conference in London yesterday it became clear that we had in the room someone from a clinic in Scotland where they had many waiting recipients and no egg donors and some people from a clinic in England where they had so many egg donors they were advertising for recipients! The Scottish clinic had a tie-up with a clinic in Alicante Spain but it had apparently never occurred to them that they could work with other clinics in the UK in order to meet the needs of their patients for egg donation. By the end of the day it was reported to me by someone from the English clinic that six women from the Scottish clinic would be referred to them pronto! As I said, result…but it does leave the question hanging of why this isn’t happening more often. The answer is almost certainly more complex than seems at first sight, involving money, competition between clinics and the sometimes false wringing of hands by some clinics at the ‘impossibility’ of finding donors when actually they are very comfortable referring patients abroad, preferring to leave the considerable effort of recruiting UK donors to others. And that’s without taking into account the difficulties of referring patients between NHS and privately run fertility services.
The big problem with clinics referring people abroad is that they rarely explain two very important things. The first is that there are clinics in the UK where egg donation is available without waiting lists and second, most importantly, that going abroad to a country where donors are anonymous puts children in a distinctly different position to those conceived in the UK. If people choose to go abroad in full knowledge of the implications of what they are doing then, although I am personally not comfortable with that choice, it is a free world and at least they understand – or they should – what they may have to face in the future. What is distressing is when people, wanting only to believe that their clinic is directing them somewhere that is in the best interests of their family, discover or realise the full meaning of anonymity, lack of information or a way of ensuring that their records are kept, and kept safe.
I felt that for the very first time yesterday the HFEA really took note of these concerns and the urgent need for there to be a central place where information about the availability of UK donors could be made accessible to patients in an unbiased way. The National Gamete Donation Trust has been undertaking this task informally but is far too stretched to be able to keep on top of constantly changing information. If better funded they may be the ideal people to do so, but if the HFEA decides to take it on then that could be fine too. But in the meantime it is very frustrating to know that everyday some clinics are cheerfully sending patients off to Spain when there are egg donors ready and waiting just down the road.