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.”

HFEA joins Facebook

You may want to have a look at – and follow – the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s new Facebook page. The HFEA regulates fertility treatment in the UK and is launching the page during National Fertility Awareness Week.

There are also a couple of very helpful videos on what it’s like to have IVF and ICSI. You can find out much more by having a look at the HFEA’s posts and you can follow for regular updates from the Authority.

Where are you in the IVF league tables?

The campaign group Fertility Fairness has produced a league table of different areas of the country to show how they rank when it comes to fertility treatment. Fertility Fairness has found that 90% of local clinical commissioning groups, who make the decisions about fertility treatment provision, found that nearly 90% were failing to provide the treatment that NICE has deemed to be both clinically effective and cost effective.

The BBC have provided a link to the full table in an article on the subject which shows that the best places to live if you need fertility treatment are Bury, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside and Glossop. In some areas couples who are experiencing fertility problems cannot access any treatment. These are Basildon and Brentwood, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Croydon, Herts Valleys, Mid Essex, North East Essex and South Norfolk.

Fertility Fairness Co-Chair Sarah Norcross has been doing media interviews this morning calling for the government to take urgent action about the current funding situation. The government has suggested that commissioners should follow NICE guidance but in practice many are still choosing to completely ignore the evidence about best practice and about cost-effectiveness leaving many patients unable to access treatment at all,

Have you reviewed your fertility clinic?

If you’ve had fertility treatment recently or are currently having treatment at a UK clinic, did you know that you can give a review of your clinic’s services on the HFEA website? Your reviews are used to create a patient rating for the clinic which other people can then see on the website along with the outcomes from treatment there and a ranking from the HFEA inspectors.

It’s good to do this if you have a spare moment – and it really won’t take long – as it helps to build up a picture of the clinic for others who may be considering having treatment there.  You will be asked a series of questions about the clinic such as

  • How likely are you to recommend this clinic to friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment?
  • To what extent did you feel you understood everything that was happening throughout your treatment?
  • To what extent did you feel you were treated with privacy and dignity?
  • What was the level of empathy and understanding shown towards you by the clinic team?

You will also be asked about cost for those who had to pay for treatment and you will be able to say whether it was more, less or about the same as you’d been anticipating. Finally, you are able to add any further comments about your experiences which will be seen by the regulator but will not appear on the website.

Choosing a fertility clinic is not easy, particularly if you live in London and the South East where there are so many clinics to choose from, and the views of other people who’ve been to a clinic can be useful.

The politics of infertility

Fertility Network UK is inviting anyone facing fertility issues to an event at Westminster on 1 Nov from 4 – 6 pm to discuss fair funding for IVF.

Speakers include Peter Thompson from the HFEA, Paula Sherriff MP,  Rebecca Manson Jones (Candidate for Women’s Equality Party),  Geeta Nargund (Director of Create Fertility clinics) and patient campaigner Richard Clothier.

There are limited spaces for the event, and if you would like to attend you can find further details here 

Freeze-all cycles

There has been growing interest in the idea of “freeze-all” cycles, where rather than having a fresh embryo transfer after eggs have been fertilised in IVF, all embryos are frozen to be transferred at a later date. The logic behind the theory is that the woman’s body has time to readjust after the hormones used to stimulate the ovaries, and that this may help the womb lining and improve the chances of implantation and a successful pregnancy.

It isn’t clear yet whether this theory holds water, but there is a national research study underway to look at this. Those taking part can be in their first, second or third treatment cycle and although the study doesn’t cover the cost of the treatment itself, it does allow for freezing with no additional cost. A number of centres across the UK are taking part in the study, known as E-Freeze, and if you would like to find out more, you can find the website here 

Pregnant after fertility problems?

If you are pregnant after fertility problems, there is a brand new closed Facebook group that you can join. It is a closed space to talk to one another, to share experiences and to find news and information about pregnancy, birth and early parenting.

The group is for anyone who is pregnant or a new parent and we look forward to welcoming you. You can find the link for the page here https://www.facebook.com/groups/Pregnancyafterinfertility/

Cutting the cost of IVF

There’s an interesting development in Australia where the arrival of a low-cost IVF provider has been reducing the price of IVF treatment – you can read more about this from the Sydney Morning Herald here. Some are predicting that costs could still fall further.

In Australia, IVF funding works differently as there is a financial rebate from Medicare, the publicly funded healthcare system, but the fact that one IVF provider undercutting the others could have an influence on the market is a development which could potentially have an impact elsewhere…

Fertility funding

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.