Dr Virginia Beckett
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a fertility treatment that more people in the UK are using than ever before, with over 250,000 babies born as a result and success rates are continually rising.
IVF involves eggs being removed from a woman’s ovaries before being fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. A fertilised egg (embryo) is then placed into the womb to grow. Whilst this technique can appear quite straightforward, it can be physically, emotionally and financially challenging for women and their partners. It’s important to understand the process, success rate and possible complications, so women and their partners can make the best decision for them.
An important part in the process of an IVF journey is finding a clinic that makes you feel comfortable, has compassionate staff, good success rates and clear pricing structures.
The funding and costs of IVF
In the UK, national guidance recommends that up to three cycles of IVF are offered to women under the age of 40, and one cycle offered to women between 40-42 without evidence of reduced ovarian function; but, funding is at the discretion of local clinical commissioning groups. This means that NHS funded IVF is rationed according to certain criteria, or may be unavailable in many areas. Your GP will be the best person to advise on what is available for you. For those having self-funded treatment, it is important to be aware that the average cost of a cycle is £5,000, though this can vary significantly depending on the clinic.
Choosing an IVF clinic
An important part in the process of an IVF journey is finding a clinic that makes you feel comfortable, has compassionate staff, good success rates and clear pricing structures. Women having fertility treatment on the NHS may not have the option to choose their clinic but, it is an essential consideration for those paying for the services themselves.
It can be easy to get caught up in success rates when making this decision, but most are generally as good as each other with variation generally down to the types of patients treated. It is worth paying special attention to the location of the clinic, ratings from other patients and inspectors, mental health support and waiting times for donor eggs and sperm (if applicable).
Support for women and partners
Fertility treatment can be emotionally challenging, with many ups and downs, hopes and disappointments. It is very important that those going through IVF have people around them who can relate to, and understand, what they are experiencing.
NICE recommends that counselling should be offered before, during and after IVF treatment and many clinics will provide these services. For those seeking a more established and long-term programme of counselling, the British Infertility Counselling Association have a list of accredited specialist counsellors.
Beyond structured support, there are also forums where people can talk to others who have experienced the same issues, Fertility Network UK and Fertility Friends both have these. The RCOG also has a list full of resources and guidance for women and their partners navigating their fertility journey.