Fertility clinics across the UK are now officially closed for treatments. This was of course put in place as a result of the lockdown measures that require all of us to play our part by staying at home and preventing the spread of Covid-19. On this, I stand in full solidarity with the Government and echo the call to ensure that we are testing and protecting our NHS staff and all care workers as they work to fight coronavirus.
However, for the thousands of women and couples facing an indefinite suspension on treatment that may have taken them months or even years to arrive at, the
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It has also been stated that IVF treatment is to be avoided to reduce the risk of women being hospitalised through OHSS (Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome – due to over-stimulation with drugs), which could add a burden to our NHS. I have long campaigned for our sector to adopt safer, lower drug approaches to treatment, and this risk can be eliminated by adopting “OHSS-free” drug regimens and the elective freezing of all embryos. It is also possible to identify women at higher risk of infection and bleeding and adopt clinically proven strategies to avoid complications.
The government lockdowns throughout Europe are already being relaxed in phases. In addition, Germany is continuing with some IVF treatments, while Denmark re-started IVF treatments last week. We can learn and adopt approaches from these countries so that the UK could also follow suit once our lockdown is relaxed. Rather than a total ban on IVF, evidence-based clinical protocols can be used to restart treatment safely and responsibly. This should start with a priority given to women with low egg reserve, who are most at risk of losing their chance to become biological mothers.
There is no equivalent ban on natural conception for the fertile, and therefore the indefinite suspension has left women across the country feeling as if they are being unfairly penalised for their infertility. The World Health Organisation classifies infertility as a disease and IVF is an essential medical treatment for many women. Countless couples, single women and same sex partners need fertility treatments to achieve what so many of us take for granted.
At a time when saving lives is the focus, creating life should also remain important. It is a collaborative process that will require all of us working together – professionals, regulators, professional bodies, the department of health and social care, as well as patient support groups. I urge our government to prioritise this vital service and act to protect women’s health across the UK.
Geeta Nargund is medical director of Create fertility and lead consultant for reproductive medicine at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, London.