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  • Writer's pictureFarheen Muhammed

Is Access to Semen Analysis in the UK a Postcode Lottery?


By: Farheen Muhammed, a Master's of Engineering Science (MEng) candidate at Jesus College, Oxford, conducting her Master's research project on microbubble generation for drug delivery applications at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. She is the secretary of the Oxford Women in Engineering, Science and Technology Society. The opinions expressed in the article are her own.


Approximately 1 in 7 couples across the UK may experience difficulty conceiving [1] [2]. Given that half of these cases are attributed to male factors [3], semen analysis is critical to assessing male fertility potential as well as providing a reliable biological indicator for overall health [4]. Several fertility clinics across the UK that are accredited by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) offer semen analysis services, either as part of a comprehensive treatment package or as a standalone service [5]. But does where you live make a difference in how accessible these services are for you?


The short answer? Yes.


A quick look at the numbers makes this transparent. The first map in the figure below shows the number of HFEA-accredited clinics offering semen analysis in each region of the UK. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we find that there is a significant proportion of such services found in London, where the male population density (shown in the second map in the figure below) is highest [6] [7]. However, even outside of London, southern regions with similar male population densities to other parts of the UK still have significantly more services available when compared to their northern counterparts.





Figure 1: Heatmaps (a) summarising the number of HFEA-approved fertility clinics offering semen analysis in different regions of the UK, (b) showing the male population density across the UK.  Although the male population density can justify some of the variation in the number of clinics in each region, southern regions often have more clinics than their northern counterparts.


Regional Access Across the UK


This uneven distribution of services can pose a significant barrier for those residing in certain parts of the UK. A comprehensive examination of the distribution of HFEA-accredited fertility clinics that offer semen analysis across the UK (shown below) suggests that around 2.9 million male residents live more than 50 miles from a suitable service [8]. This figure is disproportionately made up of those living in northern regions of England, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, 68.5% of the Scottish male population and 32.6% of the Northern Ireland male population live more than 50 miles away from an HFEA-accredited semen analysis service. Overall, if we account for the families of all those affected, an estimated 10% of the UK population is disadvantaged by the absence of nearby semen analysis services [9]. This substantial proportion highlights the need for targeted interventions that address the discrepancy and aim to deliver more accessible services across all regions of the UK. 


Figure 2: a map of the UK illustrating cities where HFEA-accredited fertility clinics that offer semen analysis are located.


That’s where Jack Fertility comes in. The services we offer will provide convenient and easy access to reliable semen analysis that is available to everyone without excessive travel, irrespective of your geographic location. Ultimately, all residents of the UK should have equal access to these fundamental health services, and Jack is committed to making that happen.



References

[1] National health Service (2017). Infertility. [online] Available at: Infertility - NHS [Accessed 14 Dec. 2023].


[2] Sunder, M. and Leslie, S.W. (2020). Semen Analysis. [online] PubMed. Available at: Semen Analysis - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf 


[3] Yu, S., Rubin, M., Geevarughese, S., Pino, J.S., Rodriguez, H.F. and Asghar, W. (2017). Emerging technologies for home-based semen analysis. Andrology, 6(1), pp.10–19. DOI: Emerging technologies for home‐based semen analysis - Yu - 2018 - Andrology - Wiley Online Library 


[4] Chertoff, J. (2018). What Is a Normal Sperm Count? [online] Healthline. Available at: Normal Sperm Count: Understanding Your Semen Analysis 


[5] HFEA (2019). Welcome to the HFEA | Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. [online] Hfea.gov.uk. Available at: HFEA 



[7] www.ons.gov.uk. (n.d.). Population density - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/TS006/editions/2021/versions/4/filter-outputs/866a01d3-bf2e-4eb1-9008-9004da216724#get-data [Accessed 14 Dec. 2023]


[8] ImageJ.net. (n.d.). ImageJ. [online] Available at: https://imagej.net/ij/index.html


[9] Statista. (n.d.). Average household size UK 2020, by region. [online] Available at: UK average household size by region 2022 | Statista 




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