Record number of single women and same-sex couples using fertility treatment
Record numbers of single women and same-sex couples are using IVF and donor insemination with the fertility treatments becoming more popular than ever, data suggests.
A new report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows a steep rise in the last decade across the UK in women outside heterosexual relationships seeking help to have a child. Between 2016 and 2017, IVF and donor insemination for women in female same-sex relationships rose by 12 per cent to 4,463 cycles, while there was a 4 per cent rise among single women to 2,279 cycles. Treatments for surrogates rose by 22 per cent to 302 cycles.
In 2007, just 351 IVF treatments were for single women with no partner, but this jumped to 1,290 a decade later. In 2017, 671 cycles of fertility treatment – including IVF and donor insemination – were for women aged 40 to 42 with no partner, while 278 were for those aged 43 to 44. A further 191 treatments were for women aged over 44.
The report comes as increasing numbers of NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are cutting back on their IVF provision. Official guidelines state women under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS if they have been trying to get pregnant for two years or they have not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination.
But only a handful of areas in England and Wales now offer the “gold standard” three IVF cycles due to budget cuts. Funding in Scotland and Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has been increasing. Currently, 62 per cent of treatment cycles are NHS-funded in Scotland, 50 per cent in Northern Ireland, 39 per cent in Wales and 35 per cent in England.
Heterosexual couples still make up the vast majority of patients according to the HFEA report with 91 per cent of fertility treatments for this group. Some 6 per cent of fertility patients said they had a female partner, 3 per cent said they had no partner and 0.4 per cent said they were a surrogate.
The report also looked at egg freezing, such as for women wanting to delay having a child or due to cancer treatment – the fastest growing fertility treatment type, with a 10 per cent jump in cycles since 2016 to 1,463 in 2017. In 2017, most egg freezing was among older women with just 33 per cent in the under-35s.
Some 426 cycles were for women aged 35 to 37, while 313 were for those aged 38 to 39, 192 for those aged 40 to 42 and 42 for those aged over 43.
Overall, 20,555 babies were born as a result of fertility treatments carried out in 2017. The data showed that the average birth rate for women of all ages using their own eggs reached 22 per cent per cycle. One in 10 fertility treatment births are for twins or triplets, down from 24 per cent in 2008.
Sally Cheshire, HFEA chairwoman, said:
“We are seeing a gradual change in the reasons why people use fertility treatments, which were originally developed to help heterosexual couples with infertility problems.
While the increases in same-sex couples, single women and surrogates having fertility treatment are small, this reflects society’s changing attitudes towards family creation, lifestyles and relationships and highlights the need for the sector to continue to evolve and adapt.”
Dr Jane Stewart, chairwoman of the British Fertility Society (BFS), said:
“While uptake rises, the availability of NHS funding continues to fall. Infertility is a real disease, recognised by the World Health Organisation, and it should be treated just the same as any other. The reality is that infertility has been sidelined and that represents a false economy.
The costs to the NHS of not treating infertility are significant, particularly in regard to the impact of infertility on mental health.”