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IVF cycles surpass 1 million and UK fertility treatment is more successful than ever

30th anniversary report highlights advances in fertility treatment and care.

Over 1.3 million IVF cycles and more than 260,000 donor insemination (DI) cycles have been performed in the UK since 1991, resulting in the birth of 390,000 babies, new figures from the HFEA show.

The fertility regulator’s annual Fertility Trends report, published in the organisation’s 30th anniversary year, highlights advances and changes in fertility treatment over the past three decades, showing IVF cycles increased from 6,700 in 1991 to over 69,000 in 2019.

Advances in technology and treatment over the past three decades have resulted in more successful outcomes, with birth rates for all patients under 43 improving year on year. In 1991 patients aged 35-37 had a live birth rate per embryo transferred of 6%, increasing to 25% in 2019.

A great achievement has been reached as the multiple birth rate is at its lowest ever at 6% in 2019, exceeding the HFEA target of 10% and a drop from 28% in the early 90s, lowering the risk for thousands of mothers and the babies born as a result of IVF treatment.

Julia Chain, Chair of the HFEA, said:

"Fertility treatment has come a long way since the HFEA was set up, with significant growth and change taking place over the last 30 years.

"What hasn’t changed is that the UK has remained at the forefront of research and innovation in fertility treatment to help people create families, and our data shows that through clinical advances and changes in technology over the last three decades this is now more possible than ever.

"We have seen many positive changes in the treatment of patients over this time with birth rates increasing, multiple birth rates falling and treatment becoming safer, so there’s much to celebrate about the sector and the progress that we’ve made together.

We know that family structures are changing and continue to evolve, and the fertility sector is providing more options for people to create their families."

There has also been a gradual shift in the number of patients over 40 having IVF. In 1991, 58% of IVF cycles involved patients under 35, falling to 40% in 2019. At the same time, the proportion of IVF cycles undertaken by patients aged 40 and over has increased from 10% (689 cycles) in 1991 to 21% (14,761 cycles) in 2019.

Julia added:

"Despite the strides we’ve made over the decades, we’re under no illusion that the fertility sector faces challenges as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic. We are also working with laws that are 30 years old, giving us limited powers and patients having unequal access to NHS funding for their treatment.

"This is why we’re using our 30th anniversary to start a discussion about the future of fertility treatment and our regulatory powers, to ensure that we continue to be a modern and effective regulator that is prepared for future scientific changes while championing safe and effective patient care at all times."

Minister for Innovation, Lord Bethell, said:

"This report highlights the great strides fertility treatment has made over the last 30 years allowing parents to experience the joy of new life when they otherwise might not have been able to. While there has been progress, the sector still faces challenges - there continue to be disparities in people’s experiences of fertility services and more work needs to be done.

"I urge all women, especially those from black or ethnic minority backgrounds, the Midlands and East of England, who have experienced fertility treatment to share their experience with us through our call for evidence so we can create the first government-led Women’s Health Strategy built on your voices, to improve the health and wellbeing of all women across England."

Other key findings from the Fertility Trends report include:

  • The growth in IVF cycles has stabilised since 2017, but frozen embryo transfers continue to increase year on year, increasing 86% from 2014-2019.
  • Single embryo transfer has become common practice and in 2019, one embryo was put back in 75% of IVF cycles, compared to just 13% in 1991.
  • An increasing number of cycles involve patients in female same-sex relationships or with no partner. In 2019, 2,435 IVF cycles (4% of all cycles) involved a female partner, a four-fold increase compared to 489 cycles in 2009 (1%). In 2019, 1,470 cycles (2%) involved no partner, compared to 565 in 2009 (1%).
  • The proportion of IVF cycles undertaken by patients aged 40 and over has more than doubled from 10% (689 cycles) in 1991 to 21% (14,761 cycles) in 2019.
  • The level of NHS funding for fertility treatment varies across the UK, with 62% of cycles funded by the NHS in Scotland in 2019, falling to 20% in some parts of England.

Where next: 30 years of the HFEA

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Review date: 16 March 2024