Many women have been trying to come to terms with the news that their IVF clinic has been forced to close, meaning cancelled treatment cycles. While this pause is necessary, we greatly sympathise for the large number of women experiencing a sense of loss and grief that their chances of motherhood have slipped further away.
As well as the risks to both staff and patients from close contact (IVF professionals are not supposed to work on their own), clinics are facing likely redeployment of their medical staff and a critical need to reduce any impact on the NHS that might be caused by complications of IVF such as OHSS (Ovarian HyperStimulation Syndrome: a potentially life-threatening condition linked to fertility medication used to stimulate egg growth).
The Chair of the HFEA (UK’s fertility regulator) released an open letter on the 23rd March to update on the situation and to share her wishes to all those affected.1
UK clinics have started responding to the COVID-19 crisis by cancelling any new planned cycles, while many have allowed those who are mid-treatment to continue on the condition that embryos retrieved are frozen for transfer at a later date. Meanwhile , some clinics are reaching out to reassure their patients. One private London IVF clinic has said “We will continue to offer telephone consultations with our Consultants … in anticipation of treatments re-starting“ and “We would like to assure our patients that we will be able to accommodate all new treatment cycles when the treatment suspension is lifted.”2
Many women will also be worried about the impact on their NHS funding for fertility treatment. Understandably, the fight against coronavirus has taken priority. The British Fertility Society has issued guidance for clinics, which is:
“Clinics should establish liaison with commissioners of NHS services to clarify their position on funding of treatment cycles that are cancelled, and the eligibility of patients who reach age thresholds without receiving treatment, due to the coronavirus outbreak. Significant numbers are likely to be affected, and it is likely that individual Exceptional Funding requests will not be appropriate for the circumstances – we recommend that commissioners make timely decisions to guarantee treatment in the future for all currently eligible fertility patients negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to minimise distress and facilitate pathways once treatment resumes.” 3
Here at Genesis Research Trust, our thoughts are with all couples in this difficult time, especially in light of the recent guidance made by ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) who are being cautious and recommending patients avoid becoming pregnant during the COVID-19 outbreak.4 It is yet unknown whether this virus carries a serious risk of malformation in the foetus.
While this is a dynamic situation and we cannot determine when ‘normal service will resume’ we do hope some women can take comfort knowing that fertility declines much slower than most think. Our charities’ founder and fertility expert Professor Robert Winston has often commented that women can remain fertile and able to conceive until their mid-40s.5 Now is the time it seems to focus on our physical and mental health and support each other through this temporary chapter.
- Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority: An open letter to fertility patients – Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair HFEA, 23 March 2020
- Lister Fertility Clinic, Coronavirus Update
- British Fertility Society (BFS): Guidance for the care of fertility patients during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic, 18 March 2020
- European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology: ESHRE News and Statements, 14 March 2020
- Good Morning Britain: Your biological clock could be longer than you think, 27 July 2016