TV Doctor Zoe Williams is one of the hundreds of single women who has opted to freeze their eggs. The 38-year-old, who starred as Amazon in the Gla
TV Doctor Zoe Williams is one of the hundreds of single women who has opted to freeze their eggs.
The 38-year-old, who starred as Amazon in the Gladiators TV series before becoming a GP, had her first appointment to begin the process earlier last month.
She is mindful that she is lucky to be able to afford to freeze her eggs, and that for many women, including some of her own patients, the expensive procedure is simply out of the question.
‘I’m in a fortunate position that I have the choice,’ she says.
‘It’s a lot of money so it comes at a sacrifice, but so many women just don’t even have that choice. We’re not talking about women who are the lowest earners, we’re taking about the majority of women who may have to resort to taking out loans to do this.’
Dr Williams, who regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning giving medical advice, says the idea of freezing her eggs was raised by her mother in 2014, when she was 34. She did not do anything because she still hoped to meet ‘Mr Right’.
But given her knowledge of how fertility decreases after 35, she now wishes she had acted earlier – and would have done, had egg-freezing been free on the NHS.
‘I chose at 35 to buy a flat but I could have chosen egg-freezing instead. In hindsight that would have been the best thing,’ she says. ‘So if it had been available on the NHS, I would certainly have done it younger.’
Britain faces a fertility crisis that can only be sensibly and fairly addressed with radical action.
Over the past three years I have been campaigning to introduce fertility education into the curriculum across the UK. Considerable progress has been made, but I believe that we now need something more fundamental.
That is why I’m calling on the Government to support the right for women between the ages of 30 and 35 who wish to have children but are not ready to start a family, to have their eggs frozen for free on the NHS.
To some, this will seem like an expensive luxury, but there are compelling social, ethical and financial reasons for doing it.
I believe that helping women and couples to conceive naturally is by far the best option. But the reality is that women are increasingly delaying having children until later in life.
For some this is to establish a career and seek financial security, but recent research shows it is mostly because they have been unable to find a suitable partner.
Of course, increased freedom and equality for women is welcome, but as a consequence some of those who wait until later in life to start a family may struggle to conceive.
Egg freezing could avert that by offering women the opportunity to preserve their fertility. It is a revolutionary step forward in empowering women to protect their fertility and in the UK take-up of egg freezing has increased 400 per cent since 2010.
However, egg freezing is currently only available to those who can afford the £3,000-£5,000 cost of the procedure. It cannot be morally right that access to this treatment is governed by a bank balance.
Because of the cost, egg freezing is out of the reach of most women.
In fact, the women who most often come to freeze their eggs are older, by which time the efficacy is diminished.
We know the success rates for egg freezing are best for women who bank eggs before their mid-30s, so why not freeze them earlier and use them later when the time for motherhood is right? This would allow women to preserve their eggs for ‘self-donation’ rather than relying on egg donors.
In the longer term, it could save the NHS money because fewer women would be seeking expensive multiple cycles of IVF treatment in their late 30s and early 40s when success rates for fertility treatment drop considerably.
If, instead, women were able to use previously banked eggs, the scarce resources of the NHS would be better served.
Research has shown that the live birth rate is higher with younger eggs, miscarriage rates are lower and there are fewer chromosome abnormalities in children.
The proposal will also reduce reliance on egg donors, concerns about ‘reproductive tourism’ for egg donation and the burden on the NHS left by the unscrupulous practice of some foreign clinics.
Thus, as well as the overall economic benefits of improved fertility, we could reduce the cost and strain placed on our already struggling NHS.
Children are vital to ensure a thriving economy and society. Although the global population is projected to rise by 2 billion by 2050, the UN says the population in Europe will decline by 14 per cent over the same period. Making it easier for women to become mothers makes sense for the long-term economic prosperity of the country.
A record number of women are now in work – something that the Government has advocated and encouraged. They contribute to Treasury coffers through income tax and National Insurance.
It is now time for the Government, through relevant departments such as the Treasury and the Women and Equalities Office, not just the NHS, to develop a policy on fertility that has not only moved with technology, but also makes a stand against gender inequality.