As lockdown eases and the UK economy restarts, fertility clinics are also starting to return to normal. What exactly is the new normal though? It remains something that many of us are still trying to figure out. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK regulator of assisted conception treatments, has drawn up specific criteria that clinics must meet before they can reopen. Any clinic that is now open will have passed these rigorous HFEA assessments to be able to offer IVF treatment to patients safely.
Just weeks after the initial government announcement of a UK-wide lockdown the Health Secretary declared that IVF treatments could resume. This news will have been a surprise to some and a great relief to many. There has naturally been a strong recoil of patients keen to continue with their treatment. Waiting for even just a few days in a fertility journey can feel like months. The emotion and pain of subfertility does not fade during a global coronavirus pandemic. There is no escaping this and for many the stress will have been heightened.
There have been significant regional variations in the numbers of Covid-19 cases across the UK. Whilst the weeks and months ahead still offer uncertainty for life in general, many embarking on IVF treatment will wonder what lies ahead for them. London is a crowded metropolis with the highest number of fertility clinics in the UK. It’s population stands at just over 9 million and London has seen some of the highest numbers of Coronavirus cases. In recent weeks though the number of cases in London has fallen significantly. London probably offers the best guide to the months ahead.
London is twice as densely packed as any other city in the UK. If a second wave of Covid-19 is avoided in London this surely will be good news for IVF treatment. However, areas like the South West of England have not seen high numbers of cases, does this mean Covid-19 cases will rise as the winter months approach? Certainly for now the IVF clinics are reopening gradually and the Summer is here. The best advice must surely be to re-engage with clinics as soon as possible, and this so far seems to be the trend.
Patients will have observed changes in communities across the UK with social distancing and long queues outside shops and supermarkets. The National Health Service has been running at a reduced capacity for several months now and the challenge ahead is how to restart the health service without compromising care or risking higher infectivity rates. Many fertility clinics exist as stand-alone private clinics responsible for a mixture of NHS and Private fertility treatments. It is likely that there will be significant regional variations in clinics reopening and possibly a faster return to normal services in some areas than others.
Patients in London may be anxious if they will have to use public transport to reach clinics. The latest government advice makes the wearing of face masks mandatory on buses, tubes and trains. Fertility clinic staff are operating as close to normal as possible but wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where required. Therefore it is likely to feel very different to the usual service we all know and are used to. The new normal means that any scans or procedures, such as egg collections or embryo transfers will be performed by staff wearing plastic gowns, face masks and gloves. The faceless nature or wearing masks is something we are all getting used to, but it is here to stay for a while at least.
As many of us have learnt there is so much that can be achieved virtually with current technology. Whilst the interaction of meeting and speaking with friendly staff throughout your fertility treatment is important, the flow of people through a clinic needs to be minimised where possible to reduce risk. Real success has been seen in many clinics already with virtual consultations, patient information evenings and tours or the IVF units done through Skype and Webinars. The lessons of Covid-19 have been vast for all of us globally. We have seen devastating consequences but I believe the way we approach the patient-clinician interaction may have changed forever.
There are so many aspects to consider in a fertility treatment journey from the physical to the emotional and or course communication is key. As the months roll by this new way of working and social distancing will mean we all have to adapt. Clinics on the whole are dealing with a low risk group of the population so in essence fertility treatment should be safe. We all have to decide when and where to engage with clinics but I have seen nothing to make me doubt the motivation of patients and staff to make sure this is done safely. If you are considering fertility treatment in London or anywhere in the UK why not compare your clinic options with Total Fertility.