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20 Jun, 2023

Fertility Treatment 2021: Preliminary Trends and Figures

Latest fertility data ‘paints promising picture’ but pandemic aftershocks may continue to be felt says UK regulator

New report from the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows treatment numbers and pregnancy rate exceed pre-pandemic levels as:
• 7,000 (10%) more IVF and DI cycles in 2021 compared to 2019
• Egg storage cycles up by 64% in 2021 compared to 2019
• IVF patients around five years older than mothers who get pregnant naturally

More people than ever before are having fertility treatment as new data shows a 64% increase in egg freezing and *fertility preservation cycles and a 10% rise in IVF and donor insemination (DI) cycles between 2019 and 2021.

The ‘Fertility Treatment 2021: Preliminary Trends and Figures’ report, published today by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA), shows that around 55,000 patients had IVF or DI treatment at UK licensed fertility clinics in 2021, compared to 53,000 in 2019. There were 83,000 IVF and DI cycles carried out in 2021 compared to 76,000 in 2019. It also reveals record numbers of patients are freezing their eggs for future use with 4,000 in 2021 compared to around 2,500 in 2019; a rise of 64%.

The report, which shows how many patients undergo fertility treatment each year in UK fertility clinics, the type of treatment they have and the success rate, also shows the average pregnancy rate from IVF. Pregnancy rates using fresh embryo transfers have increased, rising to 29% per embryo transferred in 2021 from 10% in 1991. Pregnancy rates have increased across all age groups.

Julia Chain, Chair of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA), said:

“Overall, the new HFEA report paints a promising picture. It shows treatment numbers are back at pre pandemic levels and thanks to improved clinical and laboratory practice, over time pregnancy rates are increasing.

“Despite the pandemic being declared officially over, the aftershocks are still being felt as delays across other areas of healthcare prevent some patients accessing fertility services. Our report shows that the average age of IVF patients has increased to 36, around five years older than mothers who get pregnant naturally and these aftershocks could mean that the average age of an IVF patient continues to rise. Although pregnancy rates have increased, the likelihood of success decreases with age. For some patients, this may mean they never get the baby they hoped for and that’s heart breaking.”

The ‘Fertility Treatment 2021: Preliminary Trends and Figures’ report also shows:
• IVF cycles (fresh and frozen embryo transfers) increased to 76,000 cycles in 2021 from almost 70,000 in 2019 (+9%). DI cycles increased to 7,000 in 2021 from around 6,000 in 2019 (+22%).
• Egg and embryo freezing cycles are the fastest growing treatments in the UK, allowing people to freeze their eggs, sperm or embryos for medical or social reasons in the hope of having a family later in life. There were 11 times more egg freeze cycles in 2021 than in 2011; 373 cycles in 2011 compared to 4,215 cycles in 2021. The number of embryo freeze cycles increased from around 230 cycles in 2011 to 10,719 in 2021. Despite these large increases, egg freeze cycles accounted for only 4% of all treatments carried out in 2021 and embryo freeze cycles accounted for 11%.
• In 2021, the average IVF pregnancy rate using fresh embryo transfers for patients aged 18-34 was 41% per embryo transferred with a birth rate of 33%. This compares to 6% for patients aged 43-50 when using their own eggs and a birth rate of 4%.
• In 2021, the UK average multiple birth rate reached the lowest level yet at 5%, falling from 28% in the 1990s.
• Single patients and patients in female same-sex relationships had the largest increase in IVF usage from 2019 to 2021; single patient use grew by 44% (2,001 in 2019 to 2,888 in 2021) and same sex female use grew by a third (1,649 in 2019 to 2,201 in 2021).
• The use of private funding by patients across the UK aged 18-34 has continued to increase with 63% of IVF cycles funded privately in 2021 compared to 52% in 2019.
• The number of IVF cycles funded by the NHS continued to vary across the UK with an overall decrease to 20,000 cycles in 2021 from around 24,000 in 2019 (-16%).

The fertility sector is a unique area of healthcare in the UK as the majority of patients pay for treatment themselves. The proportion of NHS funded cycles have decreased right across the UK between 2019 and 2021; 17% reduction of NHS funded IVF cycles in England, 36% in Wales and 1% in Scotland.

Julia says: “There were just under 4,000 fewer IVF cycles funded through the NHS between 2019 and 2021 so although more people than ever are having fertility treatment, our data shows that more people than ever are now also paying for it.

“There could be several reasons why NHS funded cycles lag behind those seen before the pandemic. Firstly, we’ve seen a change in the type of family accessing fertility treatment with clinics treating 44% more single patients and 33% more patients in same sex female couples in 2021 than they did in 2019. Secondly, funding criteria varies depending on where you live and under current rules, very few single and same sex patients qualify for NHS funding. And finally, measures put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic saw clinics prioritise older patients and this combined with waiting list backlogs elsewhere in the NHS, could mean that women are no longer eligible for NHS funding by the time they are referred for fertility treatment.”

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