Increasing numbers of single women and those in same sex relationships are turning to IVF and donor insemination to conceive a baby, data suggests.
A new report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows a steep rise in the last decade across the UK in women outside heterosexual relationships seeking help to have a child.
Between 2016 and 2017, IVF and donor insemination for women in female same-sex relationships rose by 12% to 4,463 cycles, while there was a 4% rise among single women to 2,279 cycles.
Treatments for surrogates rose by 22% to 302 cycles.
In 2007, just 351 IVF treatments were for single women with no partner, but this jumped to 1,290 in 2017.
In 2017, 671 cycles of fertility treatment (including IVF and donor insemination) were for women aged 40 to 42 with no partner, while 278 were for those aged 43 to 44.
A further 191 treatments were for women aged over 44.
The report also looked at egg freezing, such as for women wanting to delay having a child or due to cancer treatment.
This is the fastest growing fertility treatment type, with a 10% jump in cycles since 2016 to 1,463 in 2017.
In 2017, most egg freezing was among older women with just 33% in the under-35s.
Some 426 cycles were for women aged 35 to 37, while 313 were for those aged 38 to 39, 192 for those aged 40 to 42, and 42 for those aged 43 to 44. A further 10 cycles were for those over 44.
The report showed that heterosexual couples make up the vast majority of patients (91% of fertility treatments are for this group), and fertility treatments among heterosexuals rose 2% between 2016 and 2017.
Some 6% of fertility patients said they had a female partner, 3% said they had no partner and 0.4% said they were a surrogate.
Overall, 54,760 patients from any group underwent 75,425 fertility treatments in 2017, with IVF making up 93% of these cycles.
Overall, 20,555 babies were born as a result of IVF carried out in 2017.
The data showed that the average birth rate for women of all ages using their own eggs reached 22% per cycle.
For women under 35 using their own eggs, who have the highest chance of success, the rate was 30% for a cycle using fresh embryos and 27% for a cycle using frozen embryos.
The report also found that the one in 10 fertility treatment births are for twins or triplets, down from 24% in 2008.
Sally Cheshire, chairwoman of the HFEA, said: “We are seeing a gradual change in the reasons why people use fertility treatments, which were originally developed to help heterosexual couples with infertility problems.
“While the increases in same-sex couples, single women and surrogates having fertility treatment are small, this reflects society’s changing attitudes towards family creation, lifestyles and relationships and highlights the need for the sector to continue to evolve and adapt.”
The report found that the average age of a patient undergoing IVF is rising, from 33.5 in 1991 to 35.5 in 2017.
It also pointed to marked national differences across the UK in public funding for fertility treatment.
While funding in Scotland and Northern Ireland has been increasing, it remains stable in Wales but has been falling in England.
Currently, 62% of treatment cycles are NHS-funded in Scotland, 50% in Northern Ireland, 39% in Wales and 35% in England.
Dr Jane Stewart, chairwoman of the British Fertility Society (BFS), said: “While uptake rises, the availability of NHS funding continues to fall.
“Infertility is a real disease, recognised by the World Health Organisation, and it should be treated just the same as any other.
“The reality is that infertility has been sidelined and that represents a false economy.
“The costs to the NHS of not treating infertility are significant, particularly in regard to the impact of infertility on mental health.”