UK

Dramatic rise in the number of women freezing their eggs

A newborn baby’s feet as a new report shows a rise in success from fertility treatment (Andrew Matthews/PA)
A newborn baby’s feet as a new report shows a rise in success from fertility treatment (Andrew Matthews/PA) A newborn baby’s feet as a new report shows a rise in success from fertility treatment (Andrew Matthews/PA)

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of women freezing their eggs in the UK, while more single people are now opting for IVF, new figures show.

A report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) found  that more people than ever before are undergoing procedures, with egg and embryo freezing now the fastest growing fertility treatments in the UK.

Egg freezing and storage increased from 2,576 cycles in 2019 to 4,215 in 2021 (a 64% rise), while embryo storage also rose.

Some experts have said the Covid-19 pandemic had a big impact on the numbers of women wanting to freeze their eggs in the hope of preserving their fertility.

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, said of the latest data: “The dramatic rise in the number of egg freezing cycles could be linked to the pandemic.

“Restrictions on socialising may have prompted some women to think more about their fertile window, and decide to try to increase their reproductive choices.”

The HFEA data also shows there was a 10% rise in IVF and donor insemination cycles between 2019 and 2021 (around 7,000 more cycles).

Meanwhile, the average age at which women have fertility treatment with IVF has risen – to 36. This compares to an average age of almost 31 for women who conceive naturally.

The regulator’s report shows that patients in heterosexual relationships accounted for around 90% of all IVF patients in 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of IVF patients in female same-sex relationships increased from 1,649 in 2019 to 2,201 in 2021 (a 33% rise) and single parents rose from 2,001 in 2019 to 2,888 in 2021 (a 44% rise).

This means that single patients and patients in female same-sex relationships had the biggest increase in IVF use from 2019 to 2021.

When it comes to success in getting pregnant using own eggs, the average overall IVF pregnancy rate using fresh embryos increased from 10% per embryo transferred in 1991 to 29% in 2021.

Patients aged 18 to 34 had the highest pregnancy rate per embryo transferred at 41% in 2021.

Meanwhile, pregnancy rates per embryo transferred increased from 8% in 1991 to 33% for patients aged 35 to 37, and was 25% for patients aged 38 to 39 in 2021.

For patients aged 40 to 42, the pregnancy rate per embryo transferred increased from 6% in 1991 to 16% in 2021.

For patients aged 43 to 50, the pregnancy rate per embryo transferred increased from 1% in 1991 to 6% in 2021.

Live birth rates per embryo transferred have increased from 7% in 1991 to 25% in 2021 for patients aged 35 to 37 and from 6% in 1991 to 17% in 2021 for patients aged 38 to 39.

For those aged 40 to 42, the live birth rate per embryo stands at 10%, but plummets for women aged 43 and over.

Meanwhile, the average IVF pregnancy rate using frozen embryo transfers has increased from around 7% in the 1990s to 36% in 2021.

The average IVF birth rate using frozen embryo transfers also increased from around 6% in the 1990s to 27% in 2021.

Julia Chain, chairwoman of the 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 heartbreaking.”

More patients than ever before are paying privately for IVF.

The number of IVF cycles funded by the NHS continued to vary across the UK with an overall 16% decrease to 20,000 cycles in 2021 from around 24,000 in 2019.