New fertility group for South East London

I’m going to be running a new fertility group for Fertility Network in Greenwich in South East London which you are welcome to join! We are having our first meeting on the evening of Tuesday March 27. It will be great to see you if you are able to come along!

I first went to a group when I was going through IVF myself and found it hugely helpful to meet other people who understood how we felt. I was a bit uncertain about going along – I didn’t think I was the sort of person who went to group meetings – but in fact it wasn’t gloomy or depressing or any of the other things I’d expected. If anything, it was actually quite uplifting to be in a room full of people who weren’t going to stat asking questions about when we were going to have a baby and why we were leaving it so late…

I’ve run a number of different fertility groups over the years since then and have seen at first hand the benefits they can bring. So why not come along and join us and find out for yourselves…

You can join our brand new Facebook page to find out more or you can get in touch via the contact page here – and hope to see you on the 27th.

Endometriosis Awareness Week

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Week organised by the charity Endometriosis UK. They are aiming to increase understanding of endometriosis particularly among women who may not yet have a diagnosis. It takes a shocking average of seven and a half years in the UK to diagnose a woman with endometriosis.

The charity’s website is full of useful information about endometriosis and explains the symptoms which can include painful, heavy, or irregular periods, pain during or after sex infertility, painful bowel movements and fatigue. Around one and a half million women in the UK are currently living with endometriosis which can affect anyone of childbearing age.

There are lots of ways to get involved if you are interested, and you can organise or take part in Endo the Night which is a fundraising initiative aimed at helping to support the charity. Meanwhile, if If you want some quick information on endometriosis, you may also find this helpful – an article about endometriosis with tips leading fertility specialist Anthony Rutherford.

Fertility Education

Congratulations to the brilliant team at the Fertility Education Initiative for getting the subject of fertility education on the agenda. It was fabulous to see the subject covered on the front page of The Times, and also covered in the Sun and the Mail. The Fertility Education Initiative’s Jessica Hepburn and Professor Joyce Harper even featured on the Victoria Derbyshire show talking about this.

It’s such an easy subject to misunderstand or misinterpret – and people are often worried that talking to young people about infertility will mean they assume they don’t need to worry about contraception. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth as fertility education is about ensuring young people really understand and are fully informed about their own fertility. All too often, women who find they’ve left themselves a fairly small window of opportunity to conceive feel that they weren’t fully informed about their own reproductive clock or about the limits of fertility treatment.

You can read more about the Fertility Education Initiative here where you can also find answers to some common questions, and see a video of the Fertility Education Initiative’s Health Summit Choice Not Chance held in 2016.

Free IVF cycles

Since 2009, the Lister Fertility Clinic has been offering a small number of free IVF cycles each year to try to help people who are unable to access NHS-funded fertility treatment. The cycles are offered in conjunction with the charity Fertility Network UK and there are some criteria for entering into the draw for the free cycles.

You have to be a UK resident under the age of 42, with a cause for your fertility problems. Your BMI must be in the normal range and you can’t have any children from your current relationship. You can’t have been sterilised in the past and you can’t have had a free cycle at the Lister before. There are also some restrictions on the type of treatment you can have, which can’t include egg donation.

You need to send your entry to Fertility Network UK – and you can find the details here



Pineapples are much-discussed by those trying to conceive as their cores contain the enzyme bromelain, which is a natural anti-inflammatory which some believe could help implantation.

Now, the online fertility magazine ivfbabble is using pineapples as part of a campaign of solidarity for those experiencing fertility problems.  Their “stronger together” campaign is a brilliant idea which aims to bring people together and to make us all realise quite how common fertility problems and that we are not alone.

You can read more about the pineapple pins here –  and you can buy the pins directly on Amazon  or from ivfbabble and any profits from the sales will be donated to Fertility Network UK.


Add ons – do they add up?

I gave a talk at The Fertility Show on Saturday about add ons, and promised to put my notes on the blog, so these are some of the key points, and links to useful sources of information.

What are add-ons?

  • They are additional treatments which your clinic may offer on top of IVF/ICSI
  • They are new or emerging treatments and there may be limited evidence about how effective they are
  • Some may have shown some promising results in initial studies but may not be proven to improve pregnancy or birth rates
  • Some clinics offer lots of add ons and may give you what looks like a shopping list of additional treatments to choose from. Some don’t offer them. This isn’t an indication of how good or forward-thinking a clinic is – some fertility experts may not be convinced that some add ons are worthwhile or safe.
  • Some clinics charge for add ons, others may include particular add ons in the cost of treatment because they think they make a difference and believe they should be part of IVF.
  • Add ons can be expensive and may substantially increase what you pay for your IVF

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has a list of some of the more common add ons you may be offered on their website, and a grading system for them

They include:

  • Assisted hatching
  • Artificial egg activation
  • Elective freeze-all cycles
  • Embryo glue
  • Endometrial scratch
  • Intrauterine culture
  • Pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS)
  • Reproductive Immunology
  • Time-lapse imaging

It can be difficult to know what to think about these new treatments, and the HFEA carried out patient survey to try to find out what people thought. The views ranged from those who were very strongly in favour of add ons to those who felt patients should not be offered treatments that we don’t know work. The overwhelming feeling from patients was that they didn’t want to miss out on something which might make a difference, but that this had to be balanced by the need to protect their interests.

Assessing the evidence is key and you want to know is:

  • What evidence there is about how effective something is
  • What evidence there is about whether it is safe
  • Does it carry any risks
  • How much does it cost

How do you assess the evidence?

As lay people, when we hear about evidence we may give any research or scientific paper equal weight, but in fact evidence isn’t quite as black and white as we may think.


The best scientific evidence comes from randomised controlled trials. In these trials, people will be divided into those who have the new technique or treatment and those who don’t in a randomised way. It is important when assessing evidence to look at whether the study included all patients or just a specific group. Sometimes research may have a narrow age range, or may have only looked at people with one specific type of fertility problem.

You should also look at the number of people included in the study. The most meaningful research will have involved a large group but sometimes you may discover that studies have taken place in one specific clinic and may involve tiny numbers of people.

Finally, check the outcomes. You want to look at studies where a healthy live birth is the outcome but some studies may stop at a fertilised egg or positive pregnancy test and this may not translate into an increase in births.

How the HFEA can help

The HFEA got together a group of leading scientists and fertility experts to look at all the existing research on each of the add ons, to assess it and to develop a traffic light system for add ons.

There is a green symbol where there is more than one good quality study which shows that the procedure is effective and safe.

A yellow symbol where there is a some evidence or some promising results but where further research is still required.

And a red symbol where there is no evidence to show something works or that it is safe

The decisions made by the group were then re-assessed by an expert in evidence to ensure every traffic light had been correctly assigned.

Green lights

Not one of the add ons mentioned at the start was given a green light to say that there is “more than one good quality study which shows that the procedure is effective and safe”

Red lights

There are a few red lights which means there is currently no evidence for assisted hatching, intrauterine culture, PGS on day three and reproductive Immunology. There may also be risks here too so do read the evidence carefully on the HFEA’s information page.

Amber lights

A lot of the add ons fall into amber where more evidence is needed. This includes endometrial scratch, freeze all cycles, egg activation, embryo glue, PGS on day five or six and time lapse.

For two of the add ons in this category, freeze-all cycles and endometrial scratch, there are big multi-centre trials going on at present in clinics across the United Kingdom. If you want one of these add ons, ask your clinic if they are taking part in the trial as you could end up getting the add on itself free of charge (this doesn’t cover the cost of the IVF/ICSI and you may be randomised into the other part of the trial and not get the add on, but it may be a good way forward if can’t afford to pay for the add on)

The cost of add ons

Some clinics offer add ons such as embryo glue or time lapse as part of a treatment cycle to every patient they treat. Others charge, and prices can vary hugely. There is often no discernible reason for wide discrepancies in price, so do look into this by finding out what a number of different clinics are charging for any add on you are considering.

Key questions

If your clinic offers you an add on, make sure you ask some questions first:

  • Why are you offering me this treatment?
  • What evidence is there that it works?
  • What increase in success have you seen with patients similar to me?
  • What are you charging and how does it compare to other clinics?
  • If you are charging more, why is this?

There are also some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you happy with the evidence your clinic has given you?
  • Have you read the information on the HFEA website?
  • Can you afford to pay for it?
  • If you pay for it, would it affect your chances of being able to pay for another cycle if it doesn’t work?

Whatever you decide,make sure you are as fully informed as you can be about your treatment, and make sure you have read through all the evidence on the HFEA website which is there to help you to make an informed decision about your treatment.

Fertility milestones

In support of National Fertility Awareness Week, the HFEA or Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which regulates the fertility sector, has published data which reveals some new milestones for UK fertility treatment.

More than 300,000 children in total have now been born in the UK from licensed fertility treatment since 1991. Fertility treatment has grown markedly since 2010, with almost a third of all IVF and DI babies since 1991 arriving in the last six recorded years (2010 to 2015).

The total number of treatment cycles carried out in UK clinics also passed a significant milestone in 2015, breaking through the million barrier. The overall number of treatments carried out since 1991 is 1,034,601.

The new data – drawn from The HFEA Register, the oldest and largest fertility database in the world – also reveals that fertility services are used mainly by younger women. The average age of women having fertility treatment is 35 years, which has remained largely static over recent years.

Treatments involving women aged 18-34 remain the largest single group, accounting for 43% of all treatments, while treatments for women aged 40 and over account for just 20% of all treatments with very few treatments being provided to women over 45.

Looking at the different regions in the UK, the data shows that most treatments continue to take place in London and the South East of England, accounting for 42% of all cycles. However, there is a strong representation of large northern clinics in the figures, with the North West now providing more treatments per clinic than any other region, including London. Total clinic numbers vary according to region, ranging from three in Northern Ireland to 22 in London.

HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire CBE welcomed this new data as a sign of a thriving and successful fertility sector: “The figures we have released today show that the UK’s fertility sector continues to be one of the most vibrant and successful in the world. Families using assisted reproduction services across the UK are better served than ever before, and we will continue to encourage all who work in the sector to offer the highest quality support for patients who are both successful and unsuccessful.”

Susan Seenan, chief executive of patient charity Fertility Network UK said “We welcome the publication during National Fertility Awareness Week of the new IVF milestones from the HFEA. The extraordinary growth of IVF in the last six years shows the pressing need for practical and emotional support and advice for the many people facing fertility issues. It is also significant to note that this data underlines that fertility services are used mainly by younger women – aged under 35 – who will have been trying for a baby for at least two years and often more. National Fertility Awareness Week is about challenging perceptions and we hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions about IVF and female age.”

IVF funding situation is “shocking”

The latest figures released by Fertility Fairness earlier this week about funding for IVF treatment have been described as “shocking” by the President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Lesley Regan.

Commenting on the fact that so few clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are currently following national guidance and that the number which have completely removed NHS IVF has almost doubled in the last year, Professor Regan said “These figures are shocking and it’s very disappointing to see even fewer CCGs following NICE guidance and providing full access to NHS fertility treatment. Current access to treatment is a postcode lottery and these health inequalities people face are unacceptable. Infertility can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, causing distress, depression, and the breakdown of relationships. IVF treatment is cost-effective and should be available on the NHS. The RCOG is committed to working with UK commissioners and healthcare providers to support them in following NICE Fertility Guidelines.”

Are you cycle savvy?

In support of National Fertility Awareness Week which starts today, Dr Fertility are launching #cyclesavvy, a national survey targeting women aged 25-44 years old to research the level of knowledge women have about their own fertility.

Anyone who has been trying to conceive for any length of time is likely to be very cycle savvy, but Dr Fertility believes that there is an unmet educational need when it comes to women understanding how they can get pregnant naturally.  The #cyclesavvy campaign follows up on the #bettersexeducation campaign in 2016, which focused on improving sex education in schools. However, Dr Fertility believes that, even with a better education at school, by the time a woman is ready to start a family, a lot of what she learned at school could easily be forgotten and some of this information could be out of date.

In 2016 Dr Fertility teamed up with Professor Allan Pacey, one of the UK’s leading male fertility experts, to launch the fantastic male fertility awareness campaign #spermbanter. This aimed to educate men and to evoke banter to tackle the male fertility taboo.

The campaign aims to collect at least 300 responses and once the data is analysed the results will be published. To help plug the anticipated knowledge gap, Dr Fertility will launch a #cyclesavvy bite-sized video series presented by Fertility Nurse Consultant, Kate Davies, alongside the results. You can click here to take the #cyclesavvy test.

Why you might not want to bother with that fertility “MOT”…

eggFertility clinics have been promoting “fertility MOT” tests for some time as a way of checking your future fertility by testing the stock of potential eggs in your ovaries, known as your ovarian reserve, to see how “fertile” you are. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that these MOT tests may have no value in predicting how likely you are to get pregnant.

Ovarian reserve tests do have a use for people who are having fertility treatment as they can give some idea of how your ovaries might respond to the drugs used in the course of the treatment, but this study shows that the tests have no value in predicting your chances of getting pregnant naturally.

The researchers looked at a large group of women who had been trying to get pregnant for less than three months, and following them up for a year found that the results of the tests had no relation to the chances of the women getting pregnant.

The cost of these “fertility tests” can vary hugely. The articles covering the story suggested that they might cost around £100, but a quick google reveals that some clinics are charging more than £400 for MOT tests. The researchers were quite clear that their findings “do not support the use” of these tests to assess natural fertility – so be warned before you decide to part with any money. If you are concerned about your fertility, your first port of call should be your GP rather than a clinic charging for tests.