11 July 2022
Recent statistics published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (‘HFEA’) in May 2022 brings into focus (1) the delay that many fertility patients continue to experience in starting treatment, (2) the decrease in egg and sperm donations in the UK and (3) the need for an overhaul and increased resources to help tackle the serious delays women face accessing gynaecology services in the UK. Moreover, recent news that the human genome can now be sequenced for as little as $100.00 creates new opportunities and challenges for fertility treatment delivery and will require a paradigm shift in our thinking, leadership and approach to law, policy and regulation.
Impact of Covid-19 on fertility treatment
The latest statistics published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (‘HFEA’) in May 2022 assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fertility treatment delivery in the UK. They show that:
- IVF cycles decreased by 25% among patients aged 18-34 from 2019 to 2020, compared to a 15% decrease among patients aged 40-50 (a higher priority group for age-related reasons).
- Registrations in the UK for new sperm donors fell by 14% and by 23% for new egg donors over 2019 – 2020.
- Privately funded IVF cycles exceeded 2019 levels in July 2020, whereas NHS-funded IVF cycles had yet to reach 2019 levels by June 2021.
- Embryo storage increased by 6% from 2019 to 2020, being the only aspect to increase over 2019 – 2020.
- 10% of patients having treatment from 2020-2021 said that COVID-19 caused a delay in speaking with a GP, and 28% said that COVID-19 caused a delay to starting treatment.
The HFEA also reported in May 2022 that two thirds of patients who had experienced delays in starting treatment due to COVID-19 had also experienced delays in accessing further tests, surgeries and/or NHS waiting lists. Moreover, these experiences matched findings from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which reported in April 2022 that (1) gynaecology waiting lists have faced the biggest increase as a result of the pandemic of all medical specialities having grown by 59% and (2) highlighted the devastating impact on the 570,000 women in the UK facing longer waits for gynaecology appointments, diagnoses and treatments.
As such, these findings bring into particular focus (1) the delay that many fertility patients continue to experience in starting treatment, (2) the decrease in egg and sperm donations in the UK, exacerbating existing UK donor shortages and (3) the need for an overhaul and increased resources to help tackle the serious and distressing delays women face accessing gynaecology services in the UK.
Intersection of genomic technology and fertility treatment
Recent news that the human genome can now be sequenced for as little as $100.00 creates new opportunities and challenges for fertility treatment delivery and it will require a paradigm shift in our thinking, leadership and approach to law, policy and regulation.
The ability to sequence an individual’s genome for just $100.00 together with rapid advances in genomic medicine and technology capability will increasingly cross-cut fertility treatment delivery around the world. In doing so, this will both expand and add further layers of complexity to the fertility treatment process. It will lead to greater opportunities to integrate genomic sequencing, genetic counselling and genetic medicine into the fertility treatment process. Whole genome sequencing can already identify upwards of 4,000 – 6,000 diseases and this technology will improve over time. Genetic counselling will help to address the implications of predictive genome sequencing (emotionally, economically and medically) and help fertility patients navigate decisions about early-life disease risk in offspring (which affect 1-2 % of children). It will also help patients navigate decisions about later-life disease risk in themselves and their future born children (for example Alzheimer’s and cancer). Moreover, these advances will over time help patients decide whether to undertake tried and tested genetic screening or look to make braver decisions and undertake gene editing. In doing so, this technology generates risks and issues for debate and law and policy makers at an individual, state and international level. We need to guard against a reproductive elite, whereby this technology is only available to those that can afford it and developed nations. Safeguards are also needed to guard against rampant genetic and fertility tourism and prohibitions that risk driving this powerful technology to less regulated jurisdictions or underground away from public scrutiny.
You can read more in our previous blog “Why we need fertility law reform: the paradigm shift”.
Specialist legal advice
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented levels of change and it has never been more important to proactively manage our health, fertility, personal and family arrangements. Furthermore, rapid advances in genomic sequencing and technology will moving forward increasingly add further layers of complexity to family building, fertility treatment and create a wider range of questions about family life.
Need a fertility lawyer or a family lawyer? If you require expert legal advice concerning a surrogacy arrangement in the UK or internationally and you would like to discuss your situation please contact Louisa Ghevaert by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.