Alarm as NW fertility problems rise by 70; Lifestyle blamed as more men seek help.
THE number of men seeking treatment for fertility problems in Merseyside and Cheshire has increased by nearly 70% in the past four years.
Experts say the figure demonstrates a growing issue of infertility in men in the region, mainly due to environmental factors such as pollutants and lifestyle.
Last year, 753 men were referred to the area's main fertility clinic at Liverpool Women's Hospital, compared with just 446 in 2000. Itis now predicted that in 10 years one in three couples in Britain will need fertility treatment to help them start a family.
ICSI, a method used to treat male infertility, now represents 60% of the ICSI/IVF treatment carried out at the Hewitt Centre atthe Liverpool Women's hospital, the third highest proportion at NHS clinics in the country.
Dr Iwan Lewis-Jones, consultant clinical andrologist at the Women's Hospital, said: 'The number of referrals has gone up by about 70% in the last four years In all likelihood it will reach 100% in the next couple of years. The rise could be down to a number of factors, anatomical abnormalities, environmental factors and lifestyle, including weight, smoking, drugs and alcohol.
'Unfortunately, there is no way to value these things so we cannot say exactly how much of an impact they have.'
Experts say the fact many couples are waiting until they are over 30 before starting a family could be having an impact on the fertility question. Pesticides and oestrogen from the contraceptive pill in the water supply are also blamed, as well as a rise in obesity.
Nationally the use of ICSI, a procedure that involves the injection of a single sperm directly into the egg, is becoming increasingly common and accounts for 44% of ICSI and IVF cycles.
Dr Lewis-Jones says more men seeking infertility treatment could also be down to increased awareness among GPs.
Simon Wood, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, and sub-specialist in reproductive medicine at the Countess of Chester Foundation Trust, said the decline in male fertility in Cheshire and Merseyside was echoed elsewhere in Britain and in Europe.
He said: 'During the last few decades, we have seen significant reduction in the quality of sperm and it is likely these decreases will soon show a significant decline in fertility rates.
'We are seeing this trend in the population as a whole. In many parts of the country, we are finding more patients referred for ICSI treatments than IVF because the quality and quantity of sperm in the population we are seeing is so poor.
'Men need to act on general healthcare advice to stop smoking and avoid becoming overweight or obese. They also need to be aware that tight clothing can lead to the testes overheating.
'Even measures such as the kind of underwear men wear can lead to a reduction in sperm quantity.'
Concerns about male fertility in the region were revealed half-way through a major consultation exercise on access to NHS-funded fertility services across Cheshire and Merseyside.
The 15 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in the area, plus West Lancashire PCT, launched the consultation in a bid to reduce waiting times. It aims to ensure equal access to NHS-funded fertility services for all residents.
All the PCTs currently provide some level of fertility treatment to their residents.
However, the PCTs do not operate common criteria when deciding who should be eligible for these services p TO VIEW the consultation in full, visit www.cmssct.