Donor crisis means IVF couples face 3-year wait
CHILDLESS couples are having to wait up to three years for a chance to conceive because of an unprecedented shortage of sperm and egg donors in Scotland, it was revealed yesterday.
Fertility experts say the crisis has been caused by new legislation, which ended the donors' right to anonymity, enabling children born after IVF treatment to make contact with their biological parents.
Dr David Farquharson, the clinical director, Women and Reproductive Services, at NHS Lothian, said: "We are looking at ways of reorganising the service so that we can offer first appointments for people more swiftly.
"An extra investment of £170,000 was made into the service and this resulted in a reduction of waiting times at one stage to 19 months. However, rather than have to disappoint patients, at present, we are saying to potential recipients of IVF treatment that there could be a wait of up to three years."
Launching a fresh appeal for donors, Dr Mark Hamilton, the lead consultant at the Aberdeen Fertility Clinic, said that before the right to anonymity was abolished, the clinic had never had a waiting list for sperm donations. But two years ago, after the regulations came into force, only two men came forward as volunteer donors for an area covering the whole of the north and North-east, as well as the Western and Northern Isles.
There is now a nine-month waiting list for sperm donations. Meanwhile, the number of egg donors has fallen from 17 to nine since 1998, with a waiting list of up to two years.
There are currently 29 couples waiting for an egg donor and 17 couples waiting for sperm donations in the area.
Dr Hamilton explained that every year about 20 couples were referred to the centre in Aberdeen for egg donation and 45 for sperm donation.
He said: "It doesn't sound like a lot of numbers, but if you are the ones who can't have a child it's a pretty ghastly situation."
The shortage of donors was, he said, a national problem and not unique to the Aberdeen clinic. He said: "It was always difficult to tempt people to be egg and sperm donors - and that is for understandable reasons.
"But the rules and regulations around egg and sperm donation have changed in recent years - principally around anonymity issues, and nowadays the legal situation is that donors have to be identified potentially by children conceived in this way.
"That identification will not happen until the offspring reach the age of 18, unless they get married before that time.
"Naturally, that might put some people off and so nationally there has been a trend in recent years of fewer donors coming forward. That has led to a bit of a shortage nationally and in the local situation it has been more of a struggle.
"We are leading a kind of hand-to-mouth existence in terms of getting sufficient donors to meet the need."
Dr Hamilton revealed: "The waiting times now for egg donation are approaching a couple of years. Previously, we didn't have a waiting list for sperm donation and now the waiting time is something like nine months."
The cut-off age for treatment is 45, which could mean that some couples are too old to undergo IVF by the time donor eggs or sperm become available.
'Sophie has made us complete'
MARIE and Gus MacRae, both 32 from Inverness, are among the lucky ones. Their daughter, Sophie, conceived after IVF treatment, will be six months old this week.
Mrs MacRae explained that she was 19 when she discovered she was incapable of producing eggs and that her only chance of becoming a mother would be through a volunteer egg donor.
"We were devastated, but we weren't thinking along the lines of a family at that stage," she said. "We decided to put things on hold until we were a bit more settled and I went to the clinic for the first time when I was 26."
The first two attempts at implanting a fertilised egg failed. But at the third she conceived.
Mrs MacRae, whose husband works as an offshore scaffolder, said: "You can't put into words what we feel about these people [the donors]. They are amazing.
"Gus and I have been together since we were 17, so we were quite happy the two of us, but there was always something missing. Sophie has made us complete.
"We had two failed attempts and the third one worked.
"In between we had treatments and tests and we were then on the waiting list for donors.
"We had to wait a year and a half to two years for our first treatment to start."
She added: "The first two attempts we had were under the old laws and we had waiting lists then. When we heard about the new laws we were concerned because we thought it was going to take longer to get a donor.
"We were told the waiting list was going to be two to three years at worst. We did an anonymous TV interview to help recruit donors so we were lucky - we got moved up the list quite quickly because of the recruitment drive."