Hope for couples trying for a baby as fertility services reopen

Hope for couples trying for a baby as fertility services are allowed to reopen from May 11 after treatment was stopped due to coronavirus

  • The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said fertility clinics across the UK can reopen if they ensure adequate safety and protection  
  • NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners are drawing up guidance for CCGs to put in place a framework for resuming services 
  • An auditing tool will be used to ensure clinics are complying with the guidelines 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Fertility services will be allowed to reopen after treatment was stopped due to coronavirus, bringing hope to couples trying for a baby, the Health Secretary has confirmed.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said fertility clinics across the UK can apply to reopen from May 11 if they ensure the safety and protection of staff and patients.

Matt Hancock said strict guidelines ‘will ensure staff and patients remain safe’.

Fertility services were temporarily suspended on March 23 2020 in response to the coronavirus lockdown.

Fertility services will be allowed to reopen after treatment was stopped due to coronavirus 

Whilst many private clinics may be able to restart services quickly, the Department of Health and Social Care said it recognises that NHS clinics may require longer to achieve the necessary conditions due to factors including the redeployment of staff in frontline roles.

Therefore, Mr Hancock will write to all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) this week to confirm they are able to begin resuming fertility treatments to those in their area, either through a private clinic or an NHS service, ‘to ensure fair provision’.

NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners are drawing up guidance for CCGs to put in place a framework for resuming services.

The new guidance will allow clinics to reopen only if they can prove measures to protect staff and patients are in place and will mean individuals and couples looking to start fertility treatment will be able to safely continue to do so.

Social distancing will be required in waiting rooms, telephone appointments could be used where suitable and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment will also be provided where necessary, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

An auditing tool will be used to ensure clinics are complying with the guidelines.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Now that we are past the peak, I am delighted to announce the restoration of fertility services.

How other illnesses have been affected by coronavirus battle 

Cancer: Referrals – when doctors send patients suspected of having cancer to see specialists – have fallen by almost two thirds (62 per cent) and chemotherapy treatments by 30 per cent. UCL study finds there could be 18,000 additional deaths in the next year

General surgery: Two million non-Covid operations have been axed, according to the Royal College of Surgeons.

Maternity: Gill Walton, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said there was a real ‘fear’ among expectant mothers to attending maternity units, meaning problems could be missed.

Mental health: There has been a drop in referrals to mental health services of between 30 and 40 per cent, according to Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England. 

Dementia: Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said he had ‘very real concerns’ about a reduction in diagnoses of dementia due to the closure of memory clinics.

‘People who are relying on fertility treatment have been worried during these unprecedented times not knowing when they could continue their journey to start a family.’

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he added: ‘Few families have been untouched by the amazing advances in fertility treatments over the past generation and I know just how time-sensitive treatment can be and how important it is for the families affected.

‘And I know that this treatment can change lives for the better forever.

‘So when I say thank you for all of you, everybody watching, for staying at home to protect the NHS of course I’m saying thank you on behalf of the lives that you’re saving.

‘But I’m also saying thanks on behalf of the lives that the NHS can now once again help to create.’

Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: ‘I am pleased that the HFEA has agreed fertility clinics can apply to reopen from May 11.

‘Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to consider how treatment could resume quickly and safely for as many patients as possible and our clear plan sets out how clinics can treat and care for patients safely during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

‘I know that the closure of clinics has been extremely distressing for patients and this will be good news for those wanting to resume treatment and have the opportunity to try for their much longed for family.’

Geeta Nargund, lead consultant for Reproductive Medicine at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, added:’We are delighted that IVF services  are opening soon.

‘We thank the Government for recognising the distress faced by thousands of women and couples across our nation and acting swiftly to help them.

‘We must ensure that effective social distancing and safety measures are put in place so that we can not only help save lives but start creating lives again.’

HOW DOES IVF WORK?

In-vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has an already-fertilised egg inserted into her womb to become pregnant.

It is used when couples are unable to conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.

Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy should continue as normal.

The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or those from donors. 

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.

People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.

The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are about 29 per cent, with the chance of a successful cycle reducing as they age.

Around eight million babies are thought to have been born due to IVF since the first ever case, British woman Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

Chances of success

The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it’s known).

Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy. 

IVF isn’t usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.

Between 2014 and 2016 the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:

29 per cent for women under 35

23 per cent for women aged 35 to 37

15 per cent for women aged 38 to 39

9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42

3 per cent for women aged 43 to 44

2 per cent for women aged over 44

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