The world’s first national sperm bank opened in England at the end of 2014 and, as expected, there was a fair amount of media attention, including the usual closed-minded negativity from certain tabloids regarding alternative families. In other newspaper coverage at the time, it was revealed that as much as a third of imported sperm, which comprises around 24% of all sperm available in British sperm banks, is Danish sperm. But is there really a national sperm shortage and what is it that’s caused it?
The first point to note is that a national sperm bank won’t necessarily increase the amount of sperm available. What it will do is help those NHS trusts and fertility clinics that don’t have their own sperm bank. And that’s a good thing. It’s also a good thing that the official release states that “the National Sperm Bank will provide safe, equitable and increased access for all to consistently high quality sperm”, but it would be easy to infer that many existing sperm banks don’t offer that same quality guarantee. In fact, Herts & Essex Fertility Centre and all other UK clinics are approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA; the UK’s independent statutory body responsible for overseeing fertility treatment and research) and adhere to the very strictest of quality standards in terms of treatment, medication, care and donated sperm.
In fact, we’ve run our own HFEA-approved in-house sperm bank since 2009. There’s no waiting list for Caucasian sperm, although some families may face a short wait when seeking sperm of certain ethnicity. A shortage of sperm from non-Caucasian donors is, of course, largely a reflection of ratios.
There’s absolute truth in the fact that sperm donation has fallen away since 2005, when the law changed to remove donor anonymity once a child born of sperm donation reaches 18. But there’s no legal or financial obligation between the biological father – the sperm donor – and the child, yet the significant drop in donor numbers was of course a reaction to that loss of anonymity.
Fortunately, families facing infertility challenges are largely extremely empathetic and helpful. At Herts & Essex Fertility Centre, we run a sperm sharing scheme, as well as an egg sharing scheme. Both are very successful and allow couples, where the man has normal sperm parameters, to become a sperm donor and in return receive a free cycle of IVF treatment*. Unsurprisingly, this is an extremely popular scheme, where participants get help funding their infertility treatment, whilst knowing they are helping to create other happy families at the same time. Just as with our altruistic sperm donors, our sperm sharing donors receive counselling to talk through the implications of donating sperm and all sperm samples are screened for a variety of diseases, quarantined for 6 months and then rescreened before being released for use in treatments.
And while most of our patients are local, we also have some that come to us from all around the UK and even abroad. We’re blessed with excellent staff and facilities and a formidable reputation for patient and donor care. It also means that we’ve met and personally screened all of our sperm donors. It’s something our clients find extremely reassuring.
The number of sperm donors – nationally, not just here at HEFC – is slowly growing once again, but so is demand. And while we’re not experiencing quite the same shortfall in sperm that’s necessitated a national sperm bank, we do always welcome enquiries from new donors of all ethnicities. If you’d like to find out more about sperm donation or our sperm sharing scheme please call our Donation Coordinator Paula Lynch on 01992 78 50 65 or email Paula.Lynch@hertsandessexfertility.com.
(*excluding drugs and HFEA fee)