Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at Barts Hospital, London
Since the loss of donor anonymity in 2006, there has been an on-going debate about the lack of sperm donors and availability of donor sperm.
Amanda Tozer is a fertility consultant who started her own collection system to combat the problem but says it is vital that a proper co-ordinated system is brought in across the UK.
Certainly there is a need for sperm donors, so the demand is out there, but unfortunately it appears that the supply is not. Is there too much complaining and not enough action?
The National Gamete Trust have been very proactive and must be commended on their “Give a Toss” campaign to get more men donating sperm, but there must then be somewhere for potential donors to go to donate.
Most sperm donation in the UK is done in two ways – through private clinics or via sperm banks at NHS hospitals.
The pathway for potential donors is not always as smooth or accommodating as it could be.
It is not just a question of popping in to a clinic and producing a sample.
Donors need to be assessed to ensure they are suitable and a variety of tests, mostly blood tests, are required before accepting a man as a donor.
The man may be asked to attend to donate up to 10 times and will need to come back after six months.
The process is therefore time-consuming for the donor and also for the clinic staff.
At the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Barts Hospital, we had traditionally bought in sperm from UK donor banks to treat our patients but then found it impossible to do so.
We ended up with a long waiting list for our patients due to the difficulty in buying sperm because two of the private clinics in London which we’d been using stopped selling sperm.
We decided the only solution for us at Barts was to set up our own donor bank for use for our own patients.
This seemed like the easiest option but setting up our donor bank was incredibly time-consuming and not without cost.
Indeed, most of the work involved is performed by a very dedicated embryology team and often on their own time.
There is a need for financial investment to employ dedicated staff and provide the necessary resources.
Whilst our initial thoughts were ‘why don’t all centres set up their own bank?’, we quickly understood the reasons why not and I do not believe the responsibility for provision of donor sperm lies with the fertility centres.
However, it can be done and we have fabulous donors who have made a tremendous difference to so many of our patients who now have a child.
Some would argue that the provision of resources by the Department of Health, which is already under financial constraints in providing a robust health service, is not justified.
I would challenge this opinion as the inability for a couple to conceive a child, through no fault of their own, is devastating.
The gift of sperm donation is an amazing thing to do and brings so much happiness to childless couples.
I welcome the Department of Health initiative to support a “hub” centre for sperm donation which would involve setting up 14 centres across the UK to manage services for donors.
Resources are needed to provide a donor sperm service and I believe that there are plenty of willing donors out there, it’s just a question of making it as easy as possible for them to donate during their busy working day.