According to ONS, the trend for women to have babies at older ages continued in 2016. Over the last 40 years, the percentage of live births to women aged 35 and over has increased considerably. Women aged 40 and over now have a higher fertility rate than women aged under 20.
In 2016, over 50,000 women underwent IVF treatment and each year this figure increases. As the trend towards couples marrying and having families later in life is also on the rise – the average age for marriage has risen from 28 in 1972 to 36 in 2012 (Office for National Statistics) – it’s clear that IVF demand is likely to maintain an upward curve. There is a growing number of fertility clinics offering ‘Mini IVF’ to older women, whereby the woman pays to freeze embryos in the hope of transferring a good quality embryo at a later date. Some clinics will carry out this procedure up to the age of 50, advocating successful procedures of multiple births to women in their mid-40s.
With NHS resources already stretched, the access to free fertility treatment has become a postcode lottery in the UK. Currently only 40% of the 50,000 are undergoing NHS funded treatment and only 18% of NHS funded clinics that provide IVF are offering the minimum three cycles.
In addition, the supply of eggs and sperm in the UK is dwindling. The UK are one of a few countries that don’t legislate for donor anonymity. Many would-be donors are therefore unwilling to take the risk.
The result is the majority of couples have little choice but to seek private treatment, but many simply can’t afford it. The UK currently has some of the highest IVF treatment prices in Europe, in some cases more than 50% more expensive than in Spain, Greece, or Eastern Europe.
This is encouraging an unprecedented number of couples to seek treatment in Europe where a combination of low treatment costs, high success rates and access to new treatments are on offer.
Women who are 40 and over are faced with the highest IVF failure rates and therefore on average have to undergo more cycles than younger women. The prospect of a more affordable option abroad is a particularly attractive one. But finding the right clinic can be a daunting prospect, particularly one that offers specialist treatment and higher success rates for older women.
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