The news of cuts to funding for fertility services has made depressing reading over recent days, with more and more areas cutting IVF in order to save money. As many people realise, cutting funds for IVF is a questionable way to save money in the longer term – you end up with dejected, unhappy people who are far more likely to need medical help for depression and related illnesses (we know from a Fertility Network UK survey that the majority of people with fertility problems have experienced depression and that more than 40% have had suicidal feelings as a result of their fertility problems).
People struggling to fund their own treatment often end up going overseas where IVF can appear cheaper, but where there are not always the same measures in place to reduce the numbers of multiple pregnancies, which is the biggest health risk from IVF. It doesn’t need many sets of prematurely-born triplets conceived after multiple embryo transfers overseas to wipe out any savings from cutting IVF funding here in the UK.
What was more depressing was the reaction to the news about the cuts from some quarters – people with absolutely no understanding or knowledge about infertility who felt the need to try to grab centre stage by offering ill-informed opinions. We all know that not everyone agrees with the NHS funding IVF treatment, but most of those who think this way have the good grace to recognise that infertility is tough and that anyone experiencing it deserves some empathy. Not so one person writing in the Independent who suggested that fertility treatment “only serves to fulfil people’s whimsical obsession with baby-making”, that the NHS should not pay for people to become parents “if they fancy it” and that there is no justification for treatment “just because it will make some people feel more fulfilled in their life”. It was quite breath-taking to read such a glib and insensitive dismissal of a medical problem. Right back to biblical times, the huge impact of infertility has been understood with Rachel, who was unable to get pregnant, crying “Give me children, or else I die”. Infertility is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an illness, and NICE says that IVF is a clinically and cost-effective treatment.
I’m not adding a link to the article in the Independent, or addressing the poorly researched claims as to why we shouldn’t fund IVF one by one. Suffice to say that a few hours after the piece appeared, the person who wrote it tweeted “So I’m about to go on Newsnight. No big deal, right? RIGHT?!?!”… The tweet explained everything about the lack of empathy, understanding or any shred of human kindness in the piece. This article was never meant to be a thoughtful response to a social problem, but was all about trying to create the sort of stir that gets you noticed and on television. It’s just a shame that the media desire for controversy and debate means that ignorance often gets to masquerade as valid opinion.
If you are having fertility treatment, or have done recently, you may have been offered some additional extras on top of your IVF or ICSI. These additional treatments include things like time-lapse imaging, embryo glue, endometrial scratching or reproductive immunology. Not all clinics offer every type of additional treatment. Some may not suggest them at all, others include them in the price of IVF or you may be given the option to pay for add ons if you would like them.
Fertility Network UK, the patient charity, and the fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or HFEA, is interested in finding out more about what you think about these add ons, how they should be offered and what you need in order to make decisions about whether to pay for them. Most of these add ons are not fully proven to increase your chance of getting pregnant.
If you have had treatment recently or are going through treatment currently, do take a minute to answer the short questionnaire to help them find out more about what your views are on this subject. You can find the link by clicking here
If you are trying to decide where to have fertility treatment, you may have already found the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s new website, but if you haven’t, the Choose a Clinic section is worth checking out. It is much simpler and easier to understand that the previous website and as well as giving details about the clinic and the treatments offered, it also tells you about treatment outcomes at the clinic, how other patients have rated the clinic and about what the HFEA’s inspectors have reported back on the clinic too. If you are trying to work out which clinic is nearest to you and which might be the best for you to visit for treatment, all these factors may be taken into consideration and you can see the clinics as a list or on a map.
There is a wealth of information if you want to look more closely at individual clinics and it’s a very helpful and highly recommended resource for anyone making decisions about where to have their treatment.
I’ve just been reading a fertility forum where there are a number of posts which are apparently from people who’ve had absolutely marvellous treatment at an overseas clinic. There was something about them which sounded rather odd to me and not quite like the way fertility patients usually write about their treatment, so I checked the forum for other posts about the same clinic and there were a whole series of similar posts from different people, all discussing what wonderful experiences they’d had – but also all making exactly the same slightly unusual errors in their English and using the same phrases. Some even had usernames that were similar, and they had all been successful after repeatedly unsuccessful cycles elsewhere but were returning to the forum to tell others about their treatment.
It’s always helpful to read about other people’s experiences, but reading reports online is never quite the same as talking to real people and it is worth being a little cautious, particularly if something doesn’t sound quite right. I sometimes get comments on Fertility Matters which begin as a discussion about a post and then suddenly veer into an advertising pitch and are clearly not from a genuine fertility patient. I just delete them all, but the online boards are sometimes used for promotional purposes too and it is a good idea to bear that in mind.
A new survey of fertility patients looking at overseas treatment carried out for Fertility Network UK and the website Fertility Clinics Abroad has unsurprisingly found that cost is the major reason why people travel for treatment. Of those who responded to the survey, nearly 80% said fertility treatment in the UK cost twice as much as they were willing or able to pay and 68% said that they would travel for treatment because IVF overseas was generally cheaper.
When people first started travelling overseas for fertility treatment, it was often to access donor eggs but according to this survey most of the respondents were using their own eggs for IVF treatment abroad. The survey found that people believe that treatment can often be offered more quickly abroad. There was also a perception that the standard of care was better overseas with clinics offering a more personalised approach.
Interestingly many were also attracted by the apparently high success rates overseas, but some respondents had noticed that these rates could be confusing and misleading. A majority had said a centralised database of all overseas clinic success rates would be welcome but it would be very hard to verify these rates. Some overseas clinics claim success rates of more than 80% for women using their own eggs for IVF, and it is important to be clear that these rates are not comparable with the figures you will get from a UK clinic as they are using different criteria, are not always including all the patients treated at the clinic and may be giving rates for positive pregnancy tests rather than for live births.
Almost a quarter of respondents wanted to go overseas because they would have access to anonymous donors and it would have been very interesting to find out why they felt this was an advantage – did they feel it was linked to a larger pool of available donors or was it the anonymity itself which was attractive, and if so why. So, a survey which provides some interesting information – and also raises many questions! You can read more details about it here
NHS Commissioners in yet another area are considering cutting fertility services. This time, it’s Richmond Clinical Commissioning Group which is consulting on whether to continue to offer one fresh and one frozen cycle of treatment or to cut the service entirely. You can give your views by completing their survey – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/IVFandICSIconsultation
The consultation closes on Tuesday 4 April 2017, so please do let your views be heard especially if you live in or near Richmond.
Could you help a researcher by filling in a survey? I know I am always posting links to surveys and research – but I do think it’s a good idea to do these whenever we can because every piece of research helps further understanding of what it’s really like to be a fertility patient and how it feels to go through treatment.
This particular survey is being carried out by an MBA researcher who previously worked in a fertility clinic and is totally anonymous but will be used for part of her MBA. Do feel free to share the link with anyone who has had or is having fertility treatment in the UK – you can access it here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/JSXXS25
If you’re concerned by the postcode lottery for fertility treatment, you can join the Fertility Network UK Day of Action on 25 March. You don’t have to go out marching anywhere, but just a few small actions can make all the difference
There are three ways you can join in –
Contact your MP, Tell them how the postcode lottery is affecting you and what is happening in your local area. You can find out more about how to find your MP’s contact details and what you might want to say in an email or letter here on the Fertility Network UK website.
You can tweet your support using the hashtags #IVFx3 #tellyourMP #righttotry
Fertility guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) say that if you should be able to access 3 full cycles of NHS IVF if you under 40 and eligible for treatment, An overwhelming 98 per cent of England’s 209 local clinical commissioning groups (CCGS) do not follow this guidance fully and have either cut the number of IVF cycles they offer and ration services by introducing additional non-medical access criteria, such as denying IVF to individuals if their partner has a child from a previous relationship.
Do join in and help your charity to help you to make a difference!
A really interesting new study has found that women who worked night shifts or who had jobs involving heavy lifting produced fewer eggs when having fertility treatment than those who worked normal day shifts. The research team from the United States investigated around 500 women who filled in detailed questionnaires about their work shift patterns and any heavy lifting involved in their jobs. The researchers found that there were clear differences in the number of eggs produced by women who worked at night and those who did heavy lifting at work.
I found this study particularly fascinating as I worked night shifts before I started trying to conceive, and was very aware of the negative impact it had on my overall health – but often wondered whether it could affect fertility too. This was an observational study – which means the researchers were not linking cause and effect but just seeing what happened with the different groups of women and fertility experts have urged caution in interpreting the results. However, if you are doing a job which involves working nights or a lot of heavy lifting and are having difficulty getting, the study would suggest it may be worth investigating if there is anything you can do to change your shift pattern or lifting at work.
New research from the States suggests that women who are depressed are less likely to carry on with fertility treatment. The researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) screened 416 women with fertility problems, and 41% scored positive for depression although apparently more than half said that they felt depressed most or all of the time.
The research team found that the women whose screening test showed that they were depressed were less likely to carry on with treatment, and therefore less likely to end up with a pregnancy. You can see more about the research, which was published in the journal Human Reproduction, here
It isn’t really surprising that so many people who are having difficulty getting pregnant experience depression, but it is sad that some may end up avoiding or delaying accessing treatment that could help because of depression and anxiety.