Frozen eggs ‘are fastest fertility trend’


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Media captionBehind the scenes at a fertility clinic

More women in the UK are choosing to freeze their eggs than ever before, with treatment rates rising by 11% from 2016 to 2017, a report suggests.

The fertility regulator’s figures show there were 1,463 egg freezing cycles in 2017 compared with 1,321 in 2016.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says the success rates of using frozen embryos has risen, with birth rates comparable to fresh ones.

But it cautions that egg freezing does not provide a guaranteed family.

‘Fertility on ice’

Egg freezing involves collecting a woman’s eggs from her ovaries, storing them in a state of deep freeze and thawing them at a later stage.

At this point they are put together with sperm in the hope that an embryo forms and a pregnancy develops.

The procedure is still relatively new with only 581 egg thaw cycles (where eggs are defrosted) taking place in the UK in 2017 – a rise from 159 in 2012.

Despite this, the HFEA says that advances in egg-freezing techniques, and more women freezing their eggs under the age of 35, are partly behind the rise in successful birth rates from 18% in 2016 to 23% in 2017.

But the regulator warns the age at which women freeze their eggs is one of the most important factors for success (with women under 35 having a better chance of a birth).

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Egg freezing involves putting eggs into tanks of liquid nitrogen

‘Middle-class procedure’

The HFEA’s report gives a broad overview of other fertility trends in 2017.

It shows that IVF is becoming safer – with the rate of multiple births (which can be riskier than singleton pregnancies) declining sharply from 24% in 2008 to 10% in 2017.

But access to NHS-funded treatment continues to be patchy across the UK.

  • In Scotland, 62% of IVF treatment cycles were funded by the NHS
  • In Northern Ireland, the comparable figure was 50%
  • In Wales, 39% of IVF treatment had NHS funding and in England the figure was 35%

Commenting on the trends, Prof Joyce Harper, at University College London, said: “Fertility treatment is turning into a middle-class procedure, with the UK having some of the highest costs in Europe.

“It is time to address the commercialisation of IVF and how the NHS funds it.”

‘Changing families’

The analysis shows that while 91% of IVE treatment cycles were undertaken by women with male partners, there has been a small rise in same-sex couples, single women and surrogates considering fertility procedures.

Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, said: “This reflects society’s changing attitude towards family creation, lifestyles and relationships and highlights the need for the sector to continue to evolve and adapt.”

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