30 Oct 2014

National sperm bank ‘on a mission to change sperm donation’

With a nationwide donor shortage and increasing demand for sperm, the directors of the new national sperm bank in Birmingham say it will “revolutionise access to donor sperm”.

With some people waiting up to five years for donated sperm, the centre will seek to recruit men in the Birmingham area and distributing their samples nationwide, its director Dr Sue Avery said.

“At present some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few safe options and find themselves on waiting lists of up to five years, or having to stop treatment altogether.

“Not only is the National Sperm Bank going to revolutionise access to donor sperm in this country, its founders are also on a mission to change the face of sperm donation,” said Dr Avery.

The centre will also seek to encourage men from ethnic minorities to donate because there is a particular shortfall among their communities. Figures from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) showed that, between 2009 and 2013, more than 86 per cent of the newly registered donors were white British, white Irish or any other white background.

When plans for the centre were unveiled in July, it was announced that, for the first time, women from ethnic minority backgrounds would be able to choose from a range of culturally matched donors.

Donation shortfall

In 2005, a change in the law removed anonymity for sperm and egg donors.

HFEA figures showed that in the following 12 months, the number of British donors fell, while the amount of imported donations grew.

Over the next six years, more and more domestic and foreign donors registered until 2012 when there was another fall in the number of British men registering, but an increase in the number of foreigners.

Consequently, some people have been stuck on waiting lists for years at a time. The shortage in sperm donors has also driven some women to go to Danish sperm banks, prompting the so-called “Viking babies” phenomenon.

“The concept of the National Sperm Bank is based on a collaboration between an established sperm bank and an established campaigning body to recruit donors from a broader range of the population for distribution around the country.

“The national element is about the distribution, rather than the recruitment, but if the campaign is successful in Birmingham it can be rolled out to other areas and we may bring other centres on board,” Dr Avery told Channel 4 News.

The centre is a collaboration between the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) and Birmingham Women’s Hospital, where it is based. It was given a grant of £77,000 from the Department of Health towards its opening.