Hundreds of British couples who are ineligible for IVF treatment in the UK are going to Europe to seek treatment, according to a Europe-wide study.
The study, conducted by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), examined patients at clinics in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The findings revealed that 34% of British patients in the study were seeking treatment abroad due to problems with access to fertility treatment in the UK, more than any other nationality. Another commonly cited reason was lack of egg donation in the UK. Almost two thirds of those taking part were over 40 years old and unlikely to be eligible for IVF on the NHS, meaning that they would have to resort to private treatment which can cost several thousands of pounds.
According to the study, Spain and the Czech Republic are the most common destinations for British patients due to easier access to egg donation. These findings provide further evidence of the growing trend in fertility tourism in Europe. In May, Elizabeth Adeney, a businesswoman from Cambridge, became Britain’s oldest mother at 66 after undergoing fertility treatment in the Ukraine.
The strict barriers to fertility treatment in the UK appear to be a key reason for the recent surge in fertility tourism. “Access is a big reason for women from the UK. It’s very difficult for us to get funding for patients over the age of 39,” says Dr Francoise Shenfield from University College Hospital in London. “When they’re 39 or 40, they’re stuck. Britain is bad at access. We know that 75% of IVF cycles in the UK are still carried out in the private sector.”
Other barriers to NHS treatment in the UK include being obese. A study conducted by Dr Jan Willem van der Steeg of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam found that obese women (with a BMI of over 35) are 26% to 43% less likely to conceive than women within an average BMI range of 21 to 29.
One concern about the recent surge in fertility tourism is that women travelling abroad may be more likely to have multiple pregnancies, and therefore have a greater risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy. According to Claire Lewis-Jones, of Infertility Network UK, “If patients could access treatment in the UK, many would not be forced to consider going abroad. It is absolutely vital that anyone considering travelling abroad should do some thorough research beforehand as the rules and regulations abroad can be totally different from that in the UK.”