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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 June 2006, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Scotland in sperm donor 'crisis'
By Mona McAlinden
BBC Scotland news website

Donor-conceived children can now trace their biological parent
Scotland is facing a critical shortage of sperm donors, according to the chair of the British Fertility Society.

Dr Mark Hamilton said the law ending the anonymity of sperm and egg donors, which came into force in April 2005, had drastically reduced donor numbers.

A BBC Scotland news website poll of IVF clinics north of the border found that half of NHS units had stopped services.

The Department of Health said donors could be attracted if clinics made changes like "realistic opening hours".

The law change means children conceived using donor eggs or sperm will be able to trace their biological parent when they reach 18.

However, the donor will not be able to trace the child and has no financial or legal responsibility under the legislation.

Since 2005, there have been between 30 and 40 patients we have been unable to treat.
Dr Stewart Irvine
Edinburgh Fertility Centre

Dr Hamilton, also a consultant at Aberdeen's Assisted Reproduction Unit, said potential donors were put off when they found out anonymity was no longer protected.

He said: "We, as clinicians, had great anxieties about the effects of the legislation.

"We've made it perfectly clear to government that there is a real crisis in sperm donor shortages and there is a strong need for more resources to be put in.

"I've no great optimism that things are going to rapidly change but discussions with the Department of Health both north and south of the border are continuing."

The BBC Scotland news website surveyed Scotland's five IVF clinics to find out what effect the changes have had.

It revealed that two of Scotland's four NHS clinics have suspended services because of a lack of donors.

2000: Male 325 Female 1242
2001: Male 328 Female 1315
2002: Male 278 Female 1179
2003: Male 255 Female 1056
2004: Male 239 Female 1036
Jan-June 2005: Male 99 Female 488
Source: HFEA register

Lorraine Stewart, donor co-ordinator at the Aberdeen clinic, said a waiting list for sperm donor treatment had to be started for the first time in 2005 due to shortages.

She said fertility treatment using sperm donations then had to be suspended altogether until supplies became available.

At Ninewells Assisted Conception Unit in Dundee, the waiting time for egg donation treatment has more than doubled since the law was introduced, from two years to at least five years.

In a statement, the clinic said: "The waiting time for treatment using donated sperm used to be only a few months. Now patients are on a list, awaiting a donor. This could be for at least a year."

Dr Tony Harrold, an infertility consultant at Ninewells, said: "We have a strange situation where regulation has been introduced in the interests of the child but the effect just now is that the children aren't going to be born in the first place because patients can't access treatment."

At the private Nuffield Hospital in Glasgow, Sister Alison Kennedy also said waiting times were longer since the change in the law and the cost of treatment had increased.

Sheena Young
We need a proper hearts and minds campaign, similar to the advertising for blood donors,
Sheena Young
Infertility Network Scotland

Glasgow Royal Infirmary only offers fertility treatment and does not recruit donors.

The clinic currently uses supplies from England and said the law had caused no change in patient waiting times.

A spokesperson said: "We currently have a supply of sperm but will be monitoring the situation over the following months."

The Edinburgh Fertility Centre, based at the Royal Infirmary, said it has had no new donations since the law was introduced.

Consultant Dr Stewart Irvine said: "We are now turning patients away. Since 2005, there have been between 30 and 40 patients we have been unable to treat."

Dr Irvine also said the centre could no longer match the eye and hair colour of donors and recipients.

"The worry is that patients will try to make their own arrangements or go overseas where there is less regulation," he added.

Dame Suzi Leather
The HFEA chair said there should be more co-operation among clinics

In 2002, John Gonzales founded a website, mannotincluded, which offers a home insemination service.

The service is not licensed by the UK fertility watchdog, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), and therefore is not covered by the law ending donor anonymity.

Mr Gonzales said that since the law's introduction, more people had contacted his service for both treatment and donation.

"We've seen a rise in sperm and egg donors as well as a big increase in the number of heterosexual women using our services," he said.

"The stories we hear have a recurring theme; that treatment has been delayed because clinics don't have the sperm to treat people."

The BBC survey was published as the National Infertility Day conference took place in London on Saturday.

'Yuck factor'

Delegates at the event, organised by the Infertility Network support group, were considering the removal of anonymity and the UK's donor shortage.

Sheena Young, the Scottish organiser for the network, said a more accessible system would encourage more donations.

"I did a radio interview last year and we took calls from six men from the west of Scotland who wanted to donate," she said.

"However, the closest place I could suggest was Dundee or Aberdeen. It's hard enough recruiting people without putting them off by the prospect of travelling long distances."

Mrs Young said the issue of sperm and egg donation was still affected by a "yuck factor".

"The posters I've seen encouraging people to donate are only featured in IVF clinics, but they should be in every doctor's surgery," she said.

"We need a proper hearts and minds campaign, similar to the advertising for blood donors, to break down the stigma.

"A couple of posters and a helpline isn't a campaign. The message just isn't reaching the wider population."

It is right that donor-conceived children should be able to access this information should they want it
Department of Health spokesman

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, was due to tell the conference that the law change had not been responsible for the fall in donors.

She said: "I think the big question is what are the clinics doing to tackle the problems of supply?

"If you look at the issues around sperm donors, you get a lot of blame and not a lot of responsibility.

"How can one clinic have doubled its number of sperm donors in a year when it works under the same law as everyone else?"

Dame Leather claimed that some clinics were "hoarding" their sperm supplies and refusing to release them to other clinics.

She has called for a national system of co-operation among UK clinics to tackle the "patchy supply" of donors.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "It is right that donor-conceived children should be able to access this information should they want it.

"Where UK clinics have focused on modernising their services to attract donors, for example realistic opening times, they are recruiting identifiable donors."

See the background behind the problem

'We're not a great lobby group'
10 Jun 06 |  Scotland

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