It was interesting to see the news coverage today following an article in The Guardian yesterday headlined ‘UK sperm bank has just nine registered donors, boss reveals’. Some of you may remember that a couple of months ago The Telegraph was “revealing” that the National Sperm Bank had just five donors. In fact, that story and the two articles in The Telegraph used quotes and figures from Banking on Birmingham a BBC Radio 4 documentary I’d made with producer Steve Urquhart which had been broadcast a few days earlier – where the fact that only five donors had been recruited was discussed and put into perspective.
Today’s story was very much focused on the “just” nine donors recruited by the National Sperm Bank but in fact that’s almost double the number of donors in June which would suggest that recruitment is on an upward trend. Recruiting donors is not easy – many men who initially express an interest are put off when they discover the commitment involved and many others who would like to donate are not suitable – on average, just one in every 20 men who applies to donate will be able to as the sperm has to be very high quality and they must also get through screening tests to ensure they do not risk passing on any genetically inherited diseases or sexually transmitted infections.
To learn just weeks after we thought the National Sperm Bank had five donors that it actually has nine can only be a positive step forward; let’s hope that the coverage today will encourage many more men in the Birmingham area to come forward. But do bear in mind that every time the National Sperm Bank is in the news, it doesn’t just lead to more donors in Birmingham but to more donors across the UK – so it’s good for other banks too.
You can find out more about the National Sperm Bank here and more about donating in general here
You may be interested in a programme I’ve been working on for BBC Radio Four about our increasing use of Danish sperm donors which will be broadcast tomorrow morning at 11 am.
The New Viking Invasion considers the rapid increase in imports of donor sperm from Denmark in recent years, and looks at why this has happened. It’s partly down to the efficient system the Danes offer, but also due to our system in the UK where fertility clinics don’t always have the time or resources to recruit their own donors. Only one in every twenty men who turns up offering to donate will be suitable, and the process of screening donors can be lengthy and costly. In Denmark, they have dedicated sperm banks which don’t do anything else.
Of course, some UK clinics do have donors – but you may not discover that if you don’t happen to go to the right place. Clinics don’t necessarily to want to refer their patients to other clinics – suggesting using a Danish donor is often easier and it means they keep the patient. One couple who feature in the programme had been told they could face a ten year wait for a UK donor – in fact, they later found one without a wait at another UK clinic.
We visited European Sperm Bank in Copenhagen for the programme and spoke to staff and to donors to find out why their system works so well, and spoke to many leading experts in the UK to discuss their views and concerns about our increasing use of Danish donors. You can hear the thoughts of Dr Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, Ruth Wilde of BICA, Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA along with consultants Jane Stewart from Newcastle and Mark Hamilton from Aberdeen in the programme – as well as Danish donors and UK recipients.