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The changing demographics of IVF patients in the UK

A new report from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows that the profile of the typical IVF patient is changing. Heterosexual couples who have used IVF for decades to build families still account for 90% of all fertility patients. The latest report “Family formations in fertility treatment”, reveals an increase in single women and same sex females accessing care. The latest data shows 2,151 IVF treatment cycles were recorded for patients in female same-sex relationships in 2018, which compares to only 320 in 2008. That is an incredible 672% increase over 10 years. Single patients are also on the rise. In 2008 only 531 single women utilised IVF to start a family. However, in 2018 this figure had risen to 1,352, which is a threefold increase on the previous decade.

The report also provides insight into the way treatment choices are changing for patients in female same-sex relationships and single patients. In the recent past, most of these patients used donor insemination (DI) to help them build a family. However, the data indicates that IVF has moved on from being an exclusive treatment option for infertile heterosexual couples.

  • Female same sex relationships: In 2008 only 27% of treatment cycles for these patients were for IVF, increasing to 45% in 2018
  • Single patients: Use of IVF has increased from 41% in 2008 to 57% in 2018, making it the main treatment type for this group.

Sally Cheshire, HFEA Chair, said, “Since the HFEA was formed nearly 30 years ago the number of people accessing fertility treatment has increased year on year. This means more people are able to have their much longed for family. In recent years we’ve seen changes in the reasons why people are using fertility treatment. The biggest percentage increases amongst those in female same-sex relationships and single women. The increase is still small in terms of patient numbers but reflects an increasing shift in society’s changing attitudes towards family creation and relationships. We hope this report will be used to initiate further discussion around access to fertility treatments for different types of patients. Any patient, regardless of their background or partner type should receive high quality, evidence-based treatment to help them create their families. We will continue to work with the UK fertility sector to understand who is seeking treatment in the first place and why. We need to understand how their experiences differ and most importantly how patient services and their experiences could be improved.”

Inequality

Inequality is still an issue in the UK for same sex couples and singles attempting to build a family. The report uncovered variations between NHS IVF funding depending on family type. 39% of IVF cycles for heterosexual couples are NHS funded, compared to just 14% for patients in female same-sex relationships. Single patients had the fewest NHS-funded IVF cycles at 6%, possibly because this group tend to be older. The reason for the discrepancy in funding for same-sex couples possibly lies in the fact that these patients are told they must demonstrate their infertility. This is usually by having 6 rounds of DI, which they must fund themselves. Unsurprisingly, many female same-sex couples opt to forego this process and pay for IVF as the quicker, sometimes cheaper, option.

Jessica Holden, spokesperson for Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT rights organization said, “We’re pleased to see that the number of female same-sex couples using fertility treatment to create families has increased. It is also promising to see a significant increase in the rate of female same-sex couples using not only donor insemination, but also IVF as a fertility treatment option. These increases are likely to be a result of both recent legislative changes, such as equal marriage in 2014, but also changing societal attitudes. These have allowed people to feel comfortable being open about who they are and that they are part of a same-sex family. However, questions should be raised regarding the disparity in funding for IVF cycles to address the current inequalities and provide equal access to fertility treatment for female same-sex couples.”

You can read the full report here.