Ask pretty much anyone who has had IVF what’s the most difficult thing about treatment, and they’ll talk to you about the emotional aspects. Before you start fertility treatment, you might imagine it would be the drugs or the injections or egg collection – but for the vast majority of fertility patients, it’s dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of treatment that is so difficult – which makes the fact that patients may not be getting the emotional support they should be entitled to all the more worrying.
A survey carried out by Infertility Network UK and the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) found that a third of those who replied hadn’t been offered any counselling at their clinics. When you are having IVF/ICSI or donor treatment this isn’t an optional extra – clinics are obliged to ensure that you can access counselling services and if they don’t, they are breaching their licence conditions: the HFEA Code of Practice clearly states that the offer of counselling by licensed clinics is a statutory legal requirement.
The online survey was available via Infertility Network UK’s website for patients to complete and it showed that 33% of the respondents had not been offered any counselling. 20% said they were not even aware that counselling was available at their clinic. Of those patients who were aware, the majority (61%) felt that the potential benefits of counselling were not made clear to them. Some said that they felt information about counselling was “hidden” in the information that the clinic had given them, and that little consideration was given to how patients cope with the emotional aspects of treatment.
Ruth Wilde, outgoing chair of BICA, said: “Counselling is an integral part of infertility treatment, not a luxury, yet many people are not even being offered information about counselling and how it could be of benefit to them before, during and after treatment. Clinics have a duty of care to their patients and the HFEA makes it clear that the offer of counselling is a mandatory part of this care in a defined set of circumstances. Infertility is an extremely stressful procedure with huge potentially long term emotional consequences and patients should expect to have access to counselling support as part of this process. The issue is not simply about patients being made aware of counselling, it is about how it is offered and the value and emphasis attributed to it. The survey reflects what we as practitioners know, but clinics and clinicians sometimes fail to understand – that it is not just about offering counselling as a box-ticking exercise, but about communicating the reasons and benefits for having it. There is support out there: BICA seeks to continually raise the standard of support offered to people affected by fertility issues and involuntary childlessness and to help them access the right help. Everyone having licensed treatment should be able to see an infertility counsellor through his or her clinic. For those not currently having treatment, there is a list of specialist infertility counsellors who offer private infertility counselling on our website at www.bica.net ”
I N UK’s chief executive, Susan Seenan, said: “We know from the people who talk to us every single day that the emotional impact of infertility is as devastating as ever. The sorrow, anger, and frustration that can come with prolonged fertility problems invade every area of life and people need the right help and support to help them cope. That clearly isn’t happening anywhere near as often as it should be. This survey has shown what we have long suspected and we will be working with BICA and the HFEA and push for changes to ensure patients are getting the full package of care. Counselling can be a lifeline and clinics are failing patients if they overlook this.”