London, UNITED KINGDOM–This week the UK’s fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), published their annual report looking at fertility trends.

The report analyses 2017 HFEA data of licensed fertility treatment in the UK, including IVF. IVF is one of several treatments available to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

IVF success rates continue to improve, fewer women are having twins and more same sex couples are going through assisted conception. Egg freezing is the fastest growing fertility treatment.

The chance of having a baby for women under 35 was on average 30% for a fresh embryo transfer and 27% after a frozen cycle. For the first time, looking at all age groups, frozen cycles has higher success rates than fresh embryos (23% vs 22%). Patients can be reassured that freezing embryos can give them as much chance of success as fresh cycles.

While this is all very interesting, for an individual having treatment, UK averages are not patient specific. An individualised calculator, developed by The University of Aberdeen takes into account not only age but duration and cause of the fertility problem.

Multiple pregnancies are one of the biggest risks of fertility treatment. Despite increasing success rates, the number of twins has decreased to a new low of 10%, a long way from the 24% in 2008. Largely, this is due to more single embryo transfers and improved success with frozen embryos.

Sally Cheshire, Chair of the HFEA said: “Fertility treatment has come a long way over more than 40 years and is now safer whilst helping more people to create their much longed for families.”

Over 90% of all fertility treatments are for heterosexual couples, and the number of cycles has grown 2% over the last year. Nonetheless, treatment for female same-sex couples saw massive growth by 12% to 4,463 cycles, single women by 4% to 2,279 cycles and treatments with surrogates by 22% to 302 cycles.

However, the fastest growing fertility treatment is egg freezing for fertility preservation. This has increased by 10 per cent since 2016 to 1,462 cycles in 2017. A recent survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), found that 25 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 are worried about their ability to conceive and almost half of young women would consider freezing their eggs in future.

NHS funding for IVF treatment is well known to vary by region. In England only 35% of IVF cycles are NHS-funded, and 39% in Wales. In stark contrast, the NHS in Northern Ireland funds half of treatment cycles while Scotland pays for 62 per cent.

Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust, said the “appalling divide” between the countries was set to widen. Since 2017, one in five of England’s 195 CCGs had cut or decommissioned NHS fertility services. She went on to say: “Just 12% of CCGs follow NICE guidance and provide three full IVF cycles”.

Dr Jane Stewart, Chair of the British Fertility Society describes the impact on patients as “huge”.

Some people cannot contemplate funding themselves and that leaves them open to psychological distress and other mental health issues.

Dr Jane Stewart, Chair of the British Fertility Society

The report is encouraging for patients and doctors as success rates are improving and IVF is safer. However, many patients still do not have access to fertility treatments on the NHS and as the number of cycles continue to grow, the commercialisation of IVF and boom in egg freezing is likely to continue.


HFEA – Fertility treatment 2017: trends and figures

The Guardian – England lagging behind rest of UK in IVF cycles funded by the NHS

Aberdeen Fertility Calculator