NHS funded Fertility Services affected by COVID-19

The Agora would like to thank our patient Sian Brindlow for sharing her story with the BBC and highlighting the suffering, anger and distress that so many of those struggling to conceive are feeling right now. I commend her bravery and honesty and it is wonderful to see how widely she connected with both patients who find themselves the same situation as herself, as well as professionals like myself who deliver fertility care.

As a fertility expert, I am all too aware of the biological clock and the fact that fertility treatment is time sensitive. So we know we cannot put cycles on hold for any longer than is strictly necessary but understand the need to keep everyone safe, protect our NHS and control the pandemic.

“I am so glad I did it. It’s actually lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I love the Agora Clinic and we are all stronger together.”

Sian Brindlow

I too will ensure my voice is heard when I speak on behalf of all those trying to conceive as well as those whose fertility treatment has been halted. I believe it is of fundamental importance that we as professionals communicate clearly with the Government, NHS England and Public Health England the reasons why fertility investigations and treatment cycles must be prioritised once the current lockdown is lifted and routine medical services resume across the UK.

Another BBC news bulletin on 15th April has unfortunately provoked a great deal of anxiety amongst Sussex NHS funded patients. During the interview with a fertility clinic, misleading information was given with regards to NHS funded Fertility Services once the current lockdown is lifted. During these uncertain times, incorrect information like this can trigger a great deal of distress which is why I want to set out the facts clearly with regards to NHS funding once cycles resume to reassure all NHS fertility patients who have been affected by the current COVID-19 situation.

Update from the Sussex NHS Clinical Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs)

Over the last 4 weeks, I have engaged regularly with all the Sussex NHS Clinical Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) on the potential impact of COVID-19 induced fertility treatment delay on individual patient funding, advising them of the issues and making them aware of the high levels of anxiety felt by our patients who find themselves unable to continue their treatment programs.

As a result we now have clear written guidance and reassurance from Sussex CCGs about how NHS patients will have their funding and cycles protected. Here are the key take home messages from this communication:

  • For patients who are approaching the age of 40, an appropriate extension will be approved (the news bulletin incorrectly stated that applications would need to be made for exceptional funding). All patients who fall into this category will be able to resume treatment when our regulatory body the HFEA lifts its restrictions on Fertility Clinics. They will be granted an appropriate extension of time to take into account the delay caused by the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • Those patients who started treatment but had to abandon their cycle due to the COVID-19 situation or freeze their embryos will not lose those cycles.
  • The CCG will review the need to repeat any tests when services resume (including HIV, Hepatitis B and C which must be done within 3 months of the patient’s first IVF cycle).
  • All patients diagnosed with cancer will be assessed on a case by case basis as to their suitability to freeze sperm, eggs or embryos (we have completed treatments for such patients recently).

You will find the full guidance published here.