As Bourn Hall Wickford prepares to welcome people for its first Open Evening since lockdown, we talked to Dr Perez-Clemente, Specialist in Reproductive Medicine and IVF, about the benefits of meeting in person.
I believe returning to meeting patients in person is very welcome.
I am happy to see patients online or talk by telephone, which is welcomed by many people as they don’t need to travel and allows them to fit it around their work, but it is not like meeting in person. A few of my colleagues have already started offering face-to-face consultations at Wickford Clinic.
Using video for an initial consultation is fine, but you don’t get the same feeling that you do as an in-person meeting. Fertility treatment can be a very emotional journey and personal contact can improve that experience.
It is always good to be able to give people the choice. I hope that face to face consultations at Bourn Hall Colchester will be available soon.
How did you get involved in fertility medicine?
I have been at Bourn Hall for 15 years and am passionate about fertility. I work part-time with Bourn Hall and the rest of the time I work for the NHS in a Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic, which is mostly about contraception. In one job I am helping people to get pregnant and in the other I help people not to get pregnant! It is all related to Reproductive Medicine.
In my NHS work if I identify someone who might have an issue that would affect their fertility later, such as endometriosis, PCOS or a chlamydia infection, I would mention it and try to advise them as to what to do when they decide to start their family.
For me, getting pregnant and having babies is a unique and most wonderful experience. I have had the pleasure and the joy of experiencing it myself, so am delighted to help other people to have this too.
It is not just about the treatment; I try to be aware of people’s emotions and the stress they are going through. It is the whole process of helping people on their journey to becoming mothers or fathers and having a family, always taking the human aspect of their journey seriously into consideration.
How has lockdown affected people?
Lockdown was a very difficult time for everyone but there were some positives. Working from home meant spending more time at home with their partner, less commuting time, eating more healthily and developing different hobbies. There were quite a few natural conceptions as people were not so stressed out and were able to enjoy each other.
However, for other people lockdown was a negative experience as they found being at home was too stressful and affected their mental health. They were less active and their weight went up, which can impact fertility.
I believe that lockdown has made us think and put things into perspective. People have had time to realise what is really important in life. Being isolated for so long made us appreciate and value human contact with family and friends much more.
Working at Bourn Hall during lockdown has had a lot of positives for me. I have liked being able to connect and feel more like part of the family with nurses and doctors from the other Bourn Hall clinics. We have clinics in Essex, Norfolk and Cambridge. Regular Teams meetings gave me the opportunity to have more contact with my colleagues from Cambridge and Norwich.
What basic advice would you give to any couple who are thinking about trying for a baby?
My advice is to try to be healthy – exercise, keep your BMI between 20 and 30, take folic acid, eat healthily, stop smoking, drink alcohol and caffeine only in moderation and ‘make love’ rather than playing ‘catch the egg’.
Many women use ovulation kits and check their temperature and their cervical secretions. Although it is good to know your own body it can also create a lot of stress and tension in the couple. Trying for a baby can, sadly, become another task to add to our busy lives. It is important to enjoy life as a couple. If, after a reasonable time without using contraception and having regular intercourse, a couple hasn’t achieved a pregnancy, there may be a problem and they would benefit from getting professional advice. Their GP often can often initiate investigations.
Many tests are available on the NHS, but often there is a waiting time. Our Fertility Health and Wellbeing Test are a great way of detecting any problems that may have prevented a spontaneous conception. Some couples will have the tests even before they start trying for a baby to make sure they don’t need to be concerned. The fertility check includes a semen analysis for the men, and an AMH blood test to check fertility reserve as well as a USS for the women. Tubal patency can be checked with a special scan called HyCoSy. In light of these results we will discuss all their options and if fertility treatment is needed we will recommend the most appropriate one.
Bourn Hall provides NHS funded IVF treatment in Essex – where is it available?
There is a postcode lottery in Essex. Colchester had three cycles for a while before they stopped completely – but now the funding is back and those that are eligible have two cycles. If you live in Ipswich there is funding for two cycles if you meet the criteria, but in Basildon, Brentwood and Mid Essex they don’t have funding at all. It feels so unfair.
Bourn Hall provides NHS funding for IVF treatment where it is available; it is best to check the situation with your GP.
We see a lot of private patients from areas where funding isn’t available or where the CCG criteria for funding is not fulfilled.
When should people worried about fertility get advice?
A lot of patients have checked with “Dr Google” or talk in Fertility forums and Facebook groups but need to ensure the information source is reliable. I believe it is good to be informed and to share experiences with others but it is always better to get personalised advice from a professional. Every couple has their own circumstances and you cannot compare yours with everybody else’s. Situations will vary and so will outcomes.
At Bourn Hall we offer free nurse consultations. Patients find them very helpful and it is a good starting point.
How do people feel when they come to a Bourn Hall Wickford open evening?
Patients enjoy coming to the clinic and meeting the team that will be helping them. Wickford has been purpose-built using the experience that we have gained from over 40 years at the Cambridge clinic.
Wickford is a fantastic facility; the lab is amazing and provided with modern technology. The clinic is a lovely place to work. All the team – admin, embryologists, nurses, HCAs and doctors – are friendly and always happy to help. I would encourage people to come to an open evening to get the full feeling of what it is like.
Finally, I need to make a very important point: our success rates are very good. This means that patients will have a very good chance of achieving a pregnancy.