#Fighting4Fertility – the far-reaching trauma of infertility revealed by new research

The devastating toll infertility wreaks on people’s mental health, relationships, finances and career has been revealed in research by Fertility Network UK released at the start of National Fertility Awareness Week 2022; it has the theme #Fighting4Fertility. The findings also highlight the lack of information provided by GPs.

Gwenda Burns, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK, said: “The theme this year is #Fighting4Fertility because fertility patients have so many things to fight for, including fair access to NHS-funded fertility treatment and IVF being recognised as necessary medical treatment.”

#Fighting4Fertility – many hurdles to overcome

“The survey paints a stark, distressing picture of what it is like to experience infertility in the UK. Not being able to have the child you long for is emotionally devastating, but then many fertility patients face a series of other hurdles,” Gwenda Burns continues, she cites other hurdles such as not getting information from their GP, experiencing their relationships deteriorate, and being unable to access the mental support they need, along with the cost of fertility treatment.

“This is unacceptable. Infertility is a disease and is as deserving of medical help and support as any other clinical condition.”

The survey findings released by Fertility Network UK build on its previous infertility impact survey with Middlesex University in 2016. A comparison of the two reveals fertility patients are still being failed on many counts.

Gwenda continues: “More patients now have to pay for their fertility treatment and three-quarters of patients still feel let down by their GP when it comes to providing appropriate information. The number of respondents reporting a supportive workplace policy has stayed the same at just one-quarter (25%).

“Our research shows how much more needs to be done. That’s why this week we are #Fighting4Fertility,” she says.

Gwenda Burns, CEO of Fertility Network UK #Fighting4Fertility
Gwenda Burns, CEO of Fertility Network UK

Bourn Hall provides counselling and help for all our patients, including a Fertility Support Group for anyone to attend. Find out more here.

Impact on wellbeing

Fertility Network UK’s survey, conducted with Dr Nicky Payne, Middlesex University London found:

  • 4 out of 10 respondents experienced suicidal feelings
  •  83% felt sad, frustrated and worried often or all the time
  • 59%  reported detrimental impact on their relationship with their partner, with 2% reporting their relationship had ended as a result
  • Two-thirds of patients (63%) had to pay for their own medical treatment at an average cost of £13,750 for tests and treatment
  • Only a quarter (25%) reported the existence of a supportive workplace policy and less than a half received good support from their employers
  • Three-quarters of respondents (75%) felt their GP did not provide sufficient information about fertility problems and treatment
  • The majority of respondents (78%) would have liked to have counselling if it was free. Half of respondents (51%) did have counselling, but most of these (59%) had to fund some of it themselves.
  • Just over a quarter of respondents (27%) attended a fertility support group but nearly half (47%) who didn’t attend would have liked to if one was nearby.

Unacceptable says British Fertility Society

Commenting on the survey, Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “This survey gives a sobering insight into the wellbeing of sub fertile people, especially women, in Britain today. For 47% to report feelings of depression and as many as 10% to report suicidal thoughts often or all of the time is unacceptable.

“We must do better as a society and a health system in looking after patients with fertility problems. Above all, this must begin with a fair funding settlement for fertility treatment across the UK, based on full implementation of the evidence-based recommendations made by NICE.

” Also, we must improve awareness of fertility matters and the effect of subfertility on patients, among healthcare commissioners, professionals and wider society.”

Emotional shelter at Bourn Hall 

Gwenda Burns and her colleague Kate Brian were at Bourn Hall ahead of National Fertility Week to plant a tree on behalf of the “Queens Green Canopy”. They met Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director, he comments.

“The emotional wellbeing of all our patients is of outmost importance. We offer patient-centred care, counselling,  a monthly Fertility Support Group and tailored nutritional and lifestyle advice for those having fertility testing. The benefit of being outdoors and among trees is increasingly recognised as a strategy for coping with stress and planting trees in the grounds is part of this.”

Gwenda Burns, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK, said: “Fertility patients have so many things to fight for while dealing with the extreme levels of distress that infertility often brings. That’s why Bourn Hall clinic’s ‘place of sanctuary’ is so welcome. What a beautiful idea and so needed.

“We hope the lime trees planted here give fertility patients the emotional shelter they need to withstand the storms of infertility.”

Kate Brian (Fertility Network), Thanos Papathanasiou (Bourn Hall CEO), Gwenda Burns (Fertility Network) #Fighting4Fertility
Kate Brian (Fertility Network), Thanos Papathanasiou (CEO of Bourn Hall) and Gwenda Burns (Fertility Network)

A copy of the full report The Impact of Fertility Challenges and Treatment can be viewed here.

More information

Read more about the counselling and support Bourn Hall offers here.

The Fertility Blog offers helpful insights into fertility testing and treatment and tips on improving emotional wellbeing – see more here.

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