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Reproductive and Gynaecological Health 2021

Fertility treatment delayed by COVID-19

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Gwenda Burns

Chief Executive, Fertility Network UK

Going through fertility tests and treatment is not an easy process at the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many added challenges with delays and uncertainty for patients.


When the UK went into lockdown last year, fertility clinics across the country were asked to suspend assisted conception services and patients waiting to start IVF had no clear assurances when treatment might resume.

Clinics were able to apply to re-open in May, but backlogs meant waiting times were often extended. Now, with another lockdown in place, there have been additional delays and suspensions in some areas, leading to more anxiety.

Impact on mental health

As a patient support charity, we have seen a huge upsurge in demand as longer waiting times have exacerbated the isolation, depression and helplessness which often accompany fertility issues.

For women, delays bring additional concerns as IVF success rates decline with age. It is easy to underestimate the impact of infertility, but it can erode self-worth leading to feelings of inadequacy, despair and frustration. Therefore, getting the right support is vital.

The IVF postcode lottery

For many patients, there are additional financial challenges, as the ability to access NHS treatment depends entirely on where you live. If you’re in Scotland, you will be able to have up to three full cycles of IVF as recommended by NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Elsewhere, access varies widely and in England, local commissioning groups make their own decisions about the treatment they fund and the restrictions they put in place.

It is easy to underestimate the impact of infertility, but it can erode self-worth leading to feelings of inadequacy, despair and frustration. Therefore, getting the right support is vital.

Support services for fertility patients

Emotional support and access to reliable, unbiased resources are essential for fertility patients. Fertility Network UK runs regular webinars on a wide range of fertility-related topics with leading experts in the field, recognising that impartial evidence-based information is vital.

The charity also provides emotional assistance, and patients can benefit from peer support in local groups, a regional network and a support and information line to ensure they get the help they need, making sure that no one has to face fertility problems alone.

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