Egg Donation in the UK – costs, law and availability

What is an Egg Donation Treatment?

Egg Donation is a form of in-vitro fertilisation in which the patient uses donated oocytes (egg cells) to conceive. Retrieved eggs are fertilised with sperm, usually from the patient’s partner. Once cultivated and transferred, embryos may implant themselves in the patient’s uterus, hopefully leading to a successful pregnancy. The donation process can either be anonymous or non-anonymous; we explain that further in the article.

The prospect of using an egg donor can feel overwhelming and daunting, often leaving patients full of questions and concerns. It’s not an easy choice to make; the emotional mourning of fertility and the practical decisions on finding a donor and clinic are a lot to process. As intimidating as it may appear, however, for many women egg donation provides the best chances for a successful pregnancy.

Egg donation in the UK and its availability

Egg donation is an established treatment of female related infertility and is associated with increased pregnancy success rates. The NHS, however, provides no funding for egg donation IVF. With individuals covering all of the costs on their own, it’s no surprise that patients often look for treatment abroad.

IVF is an incredibly daunting road to embark upon, even when seeking treatment close to home. Although over 70 clinics offer treatment countrywide, for many patients the comfort of their local clinic is what ultimately decides upon treatment in the United Kingdom.

“I had formed a close relationship with the staff (at my clinic) and trusted them after so many years together. I wanted the comfort of familiarity.”

– Patient from Birmingham

“After remaining relatively stagnant between 2006 and 2011, egg donation treatment cycles in the United Kingdom have since been steadily increasing (+49% since 2011) driven in large part by an increase in frozen cycles.”

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– “Fertility treatment 2014–2016 – Trends and figures” – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority UK

That means from 2011 to 2016 the number of egg donation cycles in the UK increased by 49%. It wouldn’t be possible without willing donors. However, donor availability is still the main concern in the UK. The main reason is the lack of the donor’s anonymity. Because of this, patients from the United Kingdom often consider treatment elsewhere – even if there are donors available at home.

I think the legislation has made it more difficult for women to donate because the donors are at times younger they do not understand the long-term commitments and at times not ready to make that decision.
– Kuljit Moore-Juneja, CEO, the Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford & Putney

 

Egg donation – UK – legal requirements by HFEA

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority regulates all of the fertility treatments carried out in the United Kingdom. This independent governing body is responsible for overseeing the use of all eggs, sperm, and embryos – whether donated, or the patient’s own –  for treatment and/or research. This ensures that anyone who either undergoes treatment or is born through it receives a high standard of care. HFEA  monitors all licensed clinics in the country, collecting data to provide free and impartial information about all aspects of infertility and treatment.

Any egg donation IVF treatment carried out in the United Kingdom requires full consent from both the donor and recipient, which ensures all parties involved are fully aware of the implications. HFEA guidelines state that clinical staff should be present when filling out the consent forms, so as to provide an opportunity for any questions to be answered. HFEA also advises that clinics must offer counsel regarding all of the implications of the process.

“It was compulsory for both us and our donor to see the counsellor before starting the cycle. Our counsellor had to provide a letter to the clinic to confirm we had attended.”

– Patients from from London

The costs of egg donation in the UK

As we previously mentioned, the NHS does not cover egg donor IVF; as with all fertility treatments, it remains a costly procedure. Clinics may offer egg sharing, which is a more cost-effective alternative, but it obviously results in fewer eggs for the recipient. As the oocytes are retrieved from women undergoing IVF themselves, there could be a risk in terms of the quality, when compared to eggs of a younger donor not requiring fertility treatments. Some clinics provide a fee reduction if the male partner is eligible for (and goes ahead with) sperm donation. It’s worth speaking directly with the clinics to determine what options are available.

Within the United Kingdom, egg donation IVF treatment prices start at around £5,000 per cycle. This price doesn’t include additional costs, such as donor expenses, donor waiting list fees, embryo cultivation, certain medication, and/or required blood, uterine, and sperm analysis tests. As such, it’s easy to see how patients can end up with a final bill of around £12,000. Before deciding on a clinic, patients should confirm what is included in the stated price of treatment.

Egg donation treatment prices don’t appear to differ depending on location within the United Kingdom. The average advertised rate for donor egg IVF in top London, Manchester, and Edinburgh clinics, are all in a similar range of around £9,000 all-inclusive per cycle. However, do remember that every patient’s case is unique and, as with any fertility treatment in the United Kingdom or overseas, prices may differ depending on individual circumstances.

The average cost of an egg donation IVF cycle in the United Kingdom is around £9,000.

The latest IVF trends and figures research published by HFEA in March 2018 report 3,000 cases of egg donor IVF with the use of partner sperm, totalling 4% of all IVF treatments in the United Kingdom. Women over 44 years of age accounted for 29% of the donor egg cycles, with 12% representing women under 35. In 2016 HFEA reported a 30% live birth rate per embryo transfer from fresh cycles, and 24% from frozen cycles.

Considering the relatively high cost of treatment, is it any wonder that patients prefer looking elsewhere? Clinics from all over Europe gladly accept visitors from Britain, offering not only lower costs, but also donor anonymity.

The main reason patients from our clinic go overseas is for egg donation, it’s the price for some patients together with the anonymity that makes it a viable option but also some patients find that it’s a shorter wait time to find a match.
– Kuljit Moore-Juneja, CEO, the Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford & Putney

Non-anonymous donors in the UK

I actually think most recipients want the child to have the legal right to trace the donor in the future (even if they never do it). That said, even though most parents say they will tell the child about their genetic origins, I think only about 40% have told the child by the time they are 7 years old, and I think the older the child is when you start broaching the subject, the harder it is to broach it.
– Dr. Marco Gaudoin, Medical Director, GCRM Fertility, Glasgow

Since April 1st, 2005, it is a legal requirement within the United Kingdom that all egg, sperm, and embryo donors agree to be identifiable to any person or persons conceived as a result of their donation. This means that clinics submit personal data of every donor to HFEA in accordance with this law. Currently, any person conceived via gamete donation has the right to apply to HFEA to receive non-identifying information at age 16. At 18, they can freely access all of the information the clinic submitted at the time of the donation. The transparency of donor information is an extremely important issue for some mothers conceiving with donated eggs.

“We wanted the chance for our child to know who her donor was in the future, as per the rules here. We felt it wouldn’t be fair for her to have no idea of where she was from genetically.”

–Patients from London

Donors can find out whether they have genetic children, but if the treatment took place at a licensed UK clinic, they have no legal rights or obligations. This means a donor will not be named on the birth certificate, can’t voice opinions over how the child is raised, or be required to provide any financial support to children produced from their donations. Donors can change or withdraw their consent at any point until the gametes are used. They can also decide how many families can be created from donated eggs, up to a maximum of ten.

When it comes to the preferences and inclinations of our recipients, I can confirm that the vast majority of couples and individuals I see wish to allow their future children to have access to the identity of the donor when they reach the age of 18. Therefore, it is the minority of couples or individuals that I see who opt to receive donor treatment abroad due to the regulations in the UK. Mostly, going abroad is due to having difficulties recruiting a suitable donor in a timely fashion, and at times, it is due to financial considerations.
– Dr Benjamin Abramov, Medical Director, Gennet City Fertility, London

Who are egg donors in the United Kingdom?

Healthy women between the ages of 18 and 35 can donate eggs in the UK. It is a legal requirement that donors must undergo screening and some clinics also specify additional eligibility, such as a minimum or maximum BMI calculation.

In order to become an egg donor in the United Kingdom, women should be healthy and between the ages of 18-35. In accordance with the law, they undergo extensive testing for certain genetic disorders and sexually transmitted infections. Potential donors need to share their medical history and advise clinics about any known medical conditions within their family. They must also fully disclose any physical or mental issues they suffer from – failure to do so results in legal action. Women donating their eggs must also not be trying for their own pregnancy whilst undergoing treatment.

There are no specific restrictions regarding the amount of times a woman can donate, or even the number of children which can be born from her donations, however a maximum of ten families per donor must not be exceeded.

In the United Kingdom, donors must be identifiable to any children born as a result of their donations, and the following information must be provided; name, date of birth, current address, ethnicity, NHS number, marital status, physical characteristics, personal description and whether the donor has any children. Donors can also write a “goodwill message” to those born from their donations. This information is stored confidentially by HFEA. They can’t, however, receive any compensation higher than £750, which is meant to cover treatment costs.

I do think the change in the law had an impact on egg donors coming forward. Without the [2005 – ed.] change in the law, and with the ability to pay more generous expenses, maybe we would see even more egg donors now.
– Dr Marco Gaudoin, Medical Director, GCRM Fertility, Glasgow

At any point following the birth of a donor conceived child, their parents can ask for the donor’s non-identifying information. This information can then be shared with the child. The children themselves can request the same information once they turn 16.

At age 18, anyone born from donated oocytes can apply to HFEA for all the donor details; this includes their name and last known address.

Following the changes to donor anonymity, recruitment of egg donors can be challenging. HFEA lists 71 IVF clinics across the UK currently offering UK recruited egg donation treatments. Waiting times vary.

I think the legislation has made it more difficult for women to donate because the donors are at times younger they do not understand the long-term commitments and at times not ready to make that decision.
– Kuljtin Moore-Juneja, CEO, the Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford & Putney

There are no guarantees, however, with some cases taking a minimum of eight months just to find a match. Patients should also check what services the clinics provide. A small number of private donor matching agencies also exist and usually offer a shorter waiting time.

“In our consultation we were told that lots of donors were ready to go, but later told it might take a while, despite very basic physical match requirements. They got us in by saying they had no wait list and we could start immediately, which was based on frozen eggs.”

– Patients from London

Choosing an Egg Donor in the UK

Clinics perform the donor matching process, with donors and recipients selected on basic phenotype characteristics. These include traits such as hair and eye colour, shape, height, and ethnicity. Patients often don’t have a choice on additional factors, such as personality type or education;

“We didn’t have a choice, the donor was chosen for us based key characteristics i.e. the lady had similar skin tone, hair colour and height to me”.

– Patients from Manchester

This may differ if a private agency selects the donors instead. There are two main types of egg donors: those participating in egg sharing schemes and those who donate altruistically. In the United Kingdom, donors receive a maximum compensation of £750 to cover their expenses.

When using the recruited egg donor, clinics often perform a synchronised fresh transfer cycle. This means that treatments for the donor and recipient run simultaneously. The usual protocol for retrieving the donated oocytes is normally the same as with any standard IVF cycle; the donor receives a dose of gonadotrophins to stimulate their ovaries. After that, surgeons retrieve the eggs and send them off for fertilisation. Clinics either transfer or freeze any subsequent embryos, depending on their quality and quantity. Meanwhile, the clinic prepares the recipient for the embryo transfer.

Egg donation UK

Egg donation in the UK

Egg donation – UK or overseas?

Whilst cost implications may influence patients to seek treatment in Europe, it’s not the only determinant. European donor databases are much larger in comparison to their UK counterparts, which means clinics often find available donors faster.

“On the advice of our consultant in a UK clinic, we went to Spain, due to their large egg bank.”

– Patients from London

There is also a wider range of donor choice. With the popularity of fertility treatments in Europe rising, patients are looking past the travel issues. Naturally, this raises the question: is egg donation outside of the UK preferable?

You can learn about the differences between egg donation treatments in the United Kingdom and abroad watching the video below.

If you’re thinking about having your treatment abroad, here’s our guide to the most popular destinations for egg donation IVF abroad. We also have a comprehensive guide to IVF egg donation process abroad ready for your enjoyment.

About the Author

Caro Townsend

Caro Townsend

Caro Townsend is a writer, survivor and advocate of all things infertility. After discovering medical science was required to have a family, Caro became fully ensconced in the world of fertility treatments. Multiple IVF cycles, a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy later, she finally became a parent, thanks to a successful frozen embryo transfer. Caro is creator of one of 2018’s top ten fertility blogs and her award nominated, The Cuckoo Mama, is an honest, open and raw account of her journey to parenthood and beyond. In between freelance blogging for The Huff Post UK and The Baby Spot, she spends her time working with charities to break the taboos which surround infertility and miscarriage. You can read Caro’s blog at www.thecuckoomama.co.uk

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