Back in 2008, we realised at Infertility Network UK that no one knew why patients were going abroad for fertility treatment and we decided to carry out a survey to see what was motivating patients to travel.
More than 300 fertility patients responded to the survey, and three-quarters said that they would consider travelling overseas for treatment. The two key drivers were the price of treatment and the fact that there were no waiting times. High success rates were another attraction. Just over half of those who responded said that the availability of donor eggs was a key factor in their decision, and a similar number said that another attraction of travelling overseas was the positive reports from other patients who had already had treatment abroad. Only one in five mentioned the different rules on donor anonymity abroad or the fact that more embryos that could be transferred. Other factors which came into play were the facilities and the level of care offered in overseas clinics. Staff attitudes and the pleasant atmosphere in clinics were rated highly too.
We tend to think that most patients who go overseas only do so because they need donor treatment, but in fact only 41% of patients who’d either been overseas or were considering it needed an egg donor. The survey suggested that many were travelling for IVF/ICS (38%) or other treatments such as IUI, ovulation induction, sperm donation or surrogacy.
Things can change rapidly in the fertility world, but for those who are considering fertility treatment abroad, these are still the main attractions.
Some patients also find there’s a psychological benefit from having treatment away from home. There’s no need to cover up for your trips to the clinic if you can say you’re off to Spain for a short break, and getting away from all your normal day-to-day concerns can help you to feel relaxed, particularly if you’re staying in a nice hotel in a pleasant place.
The reasons for travelling overseas may change in the future though, as we may see reductions in the numbers of patients going abroad for egg donation in the next few years. In the past, the lack of egg donors in the UK has been a problem, and many fertility clinics have automatically suggested treatment overseas for those who need a donor egg. Now, although there are many UK fertility clinics which still don’t have egg donors readily available, this is far from universal. The change in rules on compensation for egg donors, the increase in egg sharing and active recruitment drives have seen many UK clinics now able to offer donors without the long waiting lists of the past. Quicker access to donors in the UK may mean fewer patients travelling for donor treatment, and a higher proportion visiting clinics overseas for standard IVF or ICSI.
For anyone considering travelling, the most important thing is to do your research. Every country has different rules and regulations, and it’s important to be sure you understand exactly what these are before opting for any treatment overseas. In the UK, it has been recognised that being able to know who your donor was can be really important for donor-conceived people when they grow up, and so we no longer have anonymous donation. We also appreciate that multiple birth is the biggest health risk from IVF, and patients travelling overseas need to be aware that a really good fertility clinic will have high success rates coupled with low multiple pregnancy rates as they will have the future best interests of your family at heart.
Kate Brian is the author of The Complete Guide to IVF, The Complete Guide to Female Fertility and Precious Babies: Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility. She is London Representative of the charity Infertility Network UK and you can find her blog at www.fertilitymatters.org.uk