Background: Our current knowledge of the epidemiology of infertility is limited and outdated. Health care provision for infertility in the UK attracts public interest because of restrictions on access to services.
Objective: To describe the incidence, prevalence, referral patterns and outcomes of infertile couples, presenting in general practice in UK.
Methods: A population-based retrospective observational outcome study of infertile couples from general practices in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, UK (population 1 043 513). Outcome data at 1 year were collected on all couples who presented to their GP between the 1st January 2005 and 30th June 2006 with a fertility problem.
Results: Thirty-four per cent of general practices in the study area contributed data (population 404 263). The incidence of infertility was 0.9 couples per 1000 general population. The average age of women was 31 years, and the average time attempting conception was 18 months. Treatment end points for half of all couples were in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Over half of the couples in the study were not eligible for National Health Service (NHS) fertility treatment on social criteria. At 12 months, 27% of all couples in the study achieved a pregnancy spontaneously and a further 9% with treatment.
Conclusions: Infertile women present to their GP later in life compared with 20 years ago, and after a shorter period of infertility. Half of the couples required treatment with IVF or ICSI. Adopting the British Fertility Society recommendation of allowing couples, where one or both partners has a child in a previous relationship, will result in an additional 26% of infertile couples becoming eligible for NHS fertility treatment.