Bourn Hall Wickford celebrates Bear’s birthday, the first baby of 133!

Fertility clinic Bourn Hall Wickford has welcomed 133 babies since treatment started 42 months ago in its purpose-built clinic. Now it is celebrating the third birthday of Bear McCaughren, its first IVF baby – as well as marking its fourth anniversary in May.

Bourn Hall is a provider of NHS-funded IVF treatment to eligible patients living in Castle Point and Rochford CCG, Thurrock CCG and Southend CCG, West Essex and North-East Essex (see map below). It also provides IVF to self-funding patients who are unable to access NHS funding.

NHS IVF funding offers a chance to try

Lead Clinician Dr Arpita Ray says that for couples who may need IVF treatment the NHS funding gives many a chance that they may not otherwise have: “Infertility affects your mental wellbeing and puts a strain on relationships. Being given the chance to try is so important.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in its report ‘Left too long’ has raised concerns about the current waiting times for NHS gynaecology appointments, with waiting times in England having risen dramatically since before the beginning of the pandemic.

Bear and his grandmother with his birthday cake
Bear and his grandmother with his birthday cake
Dr Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Clinician IVF in Suffolk

Every month counts

Dr Ray says that every month counts when you are struggling with infertility: “For a couple longing for a baby, a negative result means another month of waiting, of putting your life on hold. It is important that if you have been struggling to conceive for more than a year that you make an appointment to see your GP for advice and a discussion about tests available and next steps. At Bourn Hall we offer free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist, and this can help many people to conceive naturally.”

In addition, Bourn Hall offers self-funded fertility health and wellbeing tests which can provide couples with a fertility diagnosis within a matter of weeks.

Never seen a positive result before

Leonie McCaughren from South Ockendon had never seen a positive pregnancy result before: “I couldn’t believe IVF had worked the first time, so I drove to Tesco in my pyjamas to buy more pregnancy tests!”

Leonie and her husband Chris were among the first patients to be treated at Bourn Hall Wickford and their son Bear celebrated his third birthday on 12 April 2022. After years of trying to conceive the couple were told they would be eligible for NHS-funded treatment, which was successful the first time.

Leonie says: “It’s hard to put into words how I felt when Bear was born. It was something that we’d wanted for so long, that to actually have him arrive was just surreal. I think it took a couple of days for me to actually believe that he was here and not keep thinking it was a dream!”

Bear and his birthday guinea-pig
Bear and his birthday guinea-pig
Katy and Charlie
Katy and Charlie

Still a postcode lottery for IVF

Another Bourn Hall Wickford patient, Katy from Wickford, agrees, saying one of the hardest things was the feeling of happiness and jealousy when friends got pregnant. She and her husband Leigh “just cried” when they saw their positive result.

“It seemed as though everyone we knew was getting pregnant and one of the hardest things was the constant stream of baby announcements on social media,” she says. “When we saw the pregnancy test was positive, we just cried and hugged. I will never forget that moment.”

Sadly, there is still a postcode lottery in Essex for NHS patients, without a consistent pathway for all patients. Infertile couples with a GP based in Thurrock or Castle Point and Rochford are eligible for two full cycles of IVF; for Southend it is one cycle; but for Mid Essex, Basildon and Brentwood there is no NHS funding for IVF.

If the couple had stayed in their former home in Rayleigh they would have been eligible for two cycles of IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, but living in Wickford they had to self-fund, which was a struggle for the couple. “It seemed so unfair,” says Katy.

Seek advice that is right for you

Dr Ray advises patients at every stage of their journey to get fertility fit and seek advice. “It is worth looking after yourself and reaching a healthy BMI of between 19 and 30, as this will improve your chances of conception or successful treatment.

“If blood tests show that you are not ovulating (releasing a mature egg each month), by stimulating the ovaries to produce an egg (ovulation induction) and timing intercourse, 30 percent of women of with irregular ovulation can get pregnant – a treatment that is also available on the NHS at Bourn Hall.”

IVF is required for only a few people, such as in patients whose fallopian tubes are blocked or there is a male infertility factor. Younger couples (up to age 35) have a higher chance of success with the treatment, and Bourn Hall has excellent success rates.

Anne O'Leary, Lead Embryologist at Bourn Hall Wickford
Anne O'Leary, Lead Embryologist at Bourn Hall Wickford

Lead embryologist Anne O’Leary says that since the Clinic started treatments in August 2018, 369 women have had fresh embryo transfers, resulting in 142 pregnancies and 99 babies born so far.

A further 148 women have had frozen embryo transfer, many of whom will already have had a successful pregnancy. As a result, a further 52 have become pregnant, with 34 babies born so far.

Anne says: “We are hoping to announce our 200th baby in the Autumn. The Covid restrictions have put extra pressure on infertile couples, who have had treatment put on hold, but we are now operating at full strength and have no waiting lists for testing or treatment.”

NHS funding for IVF treatment in Essex by CCG

For Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership:

  • Castle Point and Rochford CCG: two full cycles of IVF for women aged 23-39 years, one cycle of IVF for women aged 40-42 years
  • Thurrock CCG: two full cycles up to age of 39
  • Southend CCG: one full cycle up to age of 40
  • Basildon and Brentwood CCG: no funding for IVF, only gamete cryopreservation for cancer patients
  • Mid Essex CCG: no funding for IVF, only gamete cryopreservation

For Herts and West Essex Integrated Care System:

  • West Essex CCG: one cycle
  • Herts Valleys CCG: one cycle
  • East and North Hertfordshire CCG: one cycle

For Suffolk & North East Essex Integrated Care System:

  • North East Essex CCG: two cycles
  • Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG: two cycles
  • West Suffolk CCG: two cycles
Essex Postcodes map
Funding for NHS IVF in Essex by postcode [click the map to view it larger]

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