Almost 27,000 patients received invitro fertilisation treatment last year, according to the annual report of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The report shows 34,638 cycles of treatment were started, 16.4 per cent of which - 5,678 - led to live births. In total, 7,397 babies were born, 47 per cent of which came from multiple pregnancies.

The report says the number of multiple births has remained 'virtually unchanged' since 1994, despite the higher risk to mothers and babies.

However, the number of cases in which the maximum of three embryos were transferred has fallen from 68.6 per cent in 1995 to 58.6 in 1997-8. The HFEA says this has not reduced the chance of women giving birth to at least one child.

The annual report says the number of donor insemination cycles carried out annually has halved since 1992, partly because there has been a rapid increase in micromanipulation techniques such as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.

See news focus, page 14.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority: eighth annual report and accounts 1999 .