Coronavirus screening in IVF clinics: safety is our priority

“My argument is that it is better to screen more for coronavirus and subsequently relax, than to create the potential for positive cases that will reduce staff availability and patient confidence,” comments Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic. IVF treatment requires close interactions with staff and a paper by Dr Papathanasiou has highlighted considerable inconsistencies in the official guidance for testing.

To help professionals working in fertility medicine to balance safety and cost, Dr Papathanasiou has compared in a paper the clinical guidance given by four societies: European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE); American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM); British Fertility Society (BFS) and Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society (CFAS). The paper has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics (12 June 2020).

Dr Papathanasiou continues: “Although there is guidance about when to test for COVID-19 it varies between scientific societies. This is because there is no relevant experience or research in the area of reproductive medicine; it is a new disease after all.”

Need to confirm good health

Assessment of risk is complicated, as it is known that some people carry the coronavirus and are infectious without showing any symptoms of the COVID-19 disease. Therefore, making the decision to treat based just on reporting of symptoms may not protect staff or other patients from infection. A test is needed to confirm good health, but not all clinics insist on this.

Dr Papathanasiou comments: “The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulatory body, does not instruct how intensively clinics should screen as its priority is for the clinic to have a plan of action with risk assessments and an audit trail.

“As a result, it falls to individual clinics to decide how exactly they will set up their COVID-19 practices. Consequently, some will have stricter or looser protocols and this is causing confusion for patients.”

IVF treatment requires a number of face-to-face interactions over a period of several weeks so Bourn Hall has introduced a COVID-19 screening process, including self-assessment and health questionnaires and COVID-19 testing for patients and staff, for its clinics in Cambridge, Norwich and Wickford.

New ways of working

Bourn Hall has also introduced new ways of working to reduce footfall in its clinics, enable social distancing where possible and strict use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). A concern for the clinics and patients is that the implementation of these measures will increase the cost of each treatment cycle. At present Bourn Hall is not passing on the increased costs to current patients other than an additional charge of £100 for each COVID-19 test.

Although a staged or ‘triage’ approach based on self-assessment questionnaires and testing was recommend by all the societies, the type of questions and the timing of testing differs. For example, some include occupation as a risk factor and only one asks about local incidence of disease.

“We will be making repeated assessments during treatment to confirm good health,” Dr Papathanasiou continues. “Even if this may mean treatment of an individual is cancelled as a precaution, safety is our priority. The good news is that this region has a relatively low number of incidents and we will be monitoring this closely within our decision-making.”

We are open

We are delighted to share that our first clinic has resumed embryo transfers for patients who had their treatment paused. 

Our Cambridge clinic began frozen embryo transfers on Tuesday 16 June 2020. Frozen embryo transfers are scheduled to begin at our Norwich clinic week commencing 22 June and at Wickford week commencing 6 July. Patients who had to freeze embryos due to the shutdown and patients whose FET was booked and had to be cancelled have been prioritised.

Plans for resuming treatment

From 29 June, we will restart egg collections at our Cambridge clinic. This will be followed by Norwich from 13 July and Wickford from  27 July. As well as those of you who had treatments suspended due to the pandemic, we will prioritise female patients aged 40 and above and women with low ovarian reserve. 

We will continue to provide rapid treatment for emergency fertility preservation e.g. cancer patients before chemotherapy. 

If you are an existing Bourn Hall patient but did not have your treatment cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus, and would like to discuss booking a further treatment cycle, please email the nurses on contact.nurses@bourn-hall.com. Once we have planned the prioritised cycles (as above), we will then be able to look at scheduling your treatment as soon as we have the capacity to do so.

If you were being seen as an NHS funded Level 2 patient, or were waiting for a referral to one of our clinics, several of the CCGs have now permitted the resumption of this  service. Please email any queries you may have to info@bourn-hall.com.

It is important to note that whilst we have resumed treatments, we will not be operating with normal capacity due to the safety measures we have put in place. This means that we will be doing our best to get you back in our clinics as soon as possible and will be in contact with you all individually to start your treatment again, if we have not done so already.

Safety measures

The safety measures being introduced to keep all patients and staff as safe as possible are as follows:

  • Our staff will wear appropriate PPE whilst working in our clinics 
  • Measures are in place to reduce footfall in our clinics by limiting the amount of patients attending the clinic at any one time and reducing the number of visits to the clinic
  • Hand hygiene stations and Covid-19 safety signs have been installed in all our clinics 
  • Information will be provided to patients and staff about social distancing and hygiene measures
  • Patients will be required to complete self assessment and health declaration questionnaires prior to starting their treatment
  • Patients will be required to take a Covid-19 test prior to their treatment. Further information about when to take your test can be found in our FAQs here
  • Patients are required to wear a mask when inside the clinic. These will be provided upon arrival
  • Only the patient receiving treatment will be permitted to enter the clinic. We would politely ask that partners or family members who accompany you wait in the car park

Treatment for new patients

We are also beginning to plan treatments for new patients as soon as we possibly can and can help you be treatment ready with secure virtual consultations with one of our fertility specialist doctors. 

You can have your consultation now and get a head start on your treatment by having a personalised treatment plan in place and starting the processes that need to be completed before commencing your treatment. This means you will be ready to start your treatment at the soonest opportunity. To organise this, please contact our enquiry team on info@bourn-hall.com

More information

Further updates will be posted on this page of our website and on our Covid-19 FAQs page. Please also make sure you are following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates.

Additional information, including some questions and answers for patients, can be found on the HFEA website.

Thank you for your understanding and your patience during this challenging time. We will continue to support you and update you as we move forwards in this journey together.

Covid-19 FAQs

Following our latest update on the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on our clinics, we have put together a list of frequently asked questions below to reassure and guide you through this difficult time. If your question has not been answered below and you still have concerns, please contact us by emailing info@bourn-hall.com

Latest FAQS:

Q: Bourn Hall are meant to be calling me – what number will this call come from?

A: Please be aware that calls from Bourn Hall will appear on your phone as a blocked number or private caller – ‘no caller ID’. This is to protect your privacy but can mean important calls are missed or declined. Please keep an eye out for these type of calls if you are expecting to hear from us.

Q: When will you be resuming treatments?

A: Our Cambridge clinic has resumed frozen embryo transfers today (16 June) for patients whose treatment was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Egg collections will begin again later in June.   Our clinics in Norwich and Wickford will also be re-starting very soon. More information on this and the resumption of treatments can be found here.

Q: I see that all patients are required to take a Covid-19 test. How do I get a test?

A: We are able to supply you with a test at a small cost. Alternatively, if you are experiencing any symptoms, the NHS can provide you with a test free of charge.

Q: I have received my Covid-19 test but my treatment is still several weeks away. When should I take the test?

For Frozen Embryo Transfer (patient only) – Please take the swab on the day that you are due to start the HRT (i.e. Progynova tablets or equivalent).

For Egg Collection (patient and partner) – Please take the swab on the first day of stimulation (S1). Please note, if donor sperm is to be used, only the patient is required to do the swab.

For Intrauterine insemination (IUI) (patient and partner) – Please take the swab on the first day of your cycle. Please note, if donor sperm is to be used, only the patient is required to do the swab.

By taking the COVID-19 test before treatment, you can feel confident in starting your treatment and then take informed lifestyle choices to reduce any possible risk of becoming infected while you are having treatment.

Q: What is Bourn Hall doing to meet the HFEA conditions for re-opening and is it safe to re-open?

A: We have been working on a robust plan that makes sure we can offer treatments safely for all our patients and staff. The protective measures we have put in place include screening everyone visiting our clinics for COVID-19, reducing the number of people in our clinics, following social distancing as much as possible, providing PPE to all who need it, encouraging good hand hygiene, and minimising face-to-face interactions. We are also reducing the need to visit our clinics with telephone appointments and consultations using a secure virtual platform. We also have an e-consenting platform which can be accessed from home to complete consent forms and questionnaires.

To help us keep all our patients and staff safe, we will ask you not to be accompanied by anyone (including your partner) when you visit our clinics. Anyone coming driving to the clinic with you is welcome to wait inside your car in the car park – we just ask that they do not enter the clinic building.

It is still vitally important that you are accompanied home after having a procedure under sedation, such as egg collection or surgical sperm retrieval. We’ll chat to you about how you are getting home when we organise your procedure, and will organise for you to be delivered to the safe care of the person accompanying you home without them needing to come inside the clinic.

With these measures in place, we are very confident that we will meet all the guidelines required to reopen and demonstrate that we are ready for safe clinical practice, allowing us to resume treatments with the highest quality of care for all our patients.

Q: Will all Bourn Hall clinics reopen at the same time?

A: Our Cambridge clinic is open. It will be closely followed by Norwich on 22 June and Wickford on 6 July. We can treat satellite patients at our main clinics, so please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss this.

Q: Is it safe for me to become pregnant?

COVID-19 is a new virus, so there is limited scientific and medical evidence on how it affects pregnancy. However, UK’s specialist body, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has advised that there is no evidence that COVID-19 infection is any worse in pregnancy, increases the risk or miscarriage or pregnancy complications. The RCOG have also advised that there is no evidence of babies being born with harm as a result of COVID-19 infection, and the UK Government has not advised people to avoid becoming pregnant. For these reasons, we have decided to start offering fertility treatments again.

We hope this reassures you, but we of course realise that you may have your own personal reasons for wanting to delay becoming pregnant. If you are worried, you can book a consultation to explore your options, including the possibility of creating and freezing embryos for when you feel ready for a frozen embryo replacement cycle.

Q: Has there been any clarification about how COVID-19 has affected NHS funding for fertility investigations or IVF?

All fertility treatments were suspended on 23 March (including NHS funded treatment) along with other NHS funded elected procedures. From week commencing 11 May, fertility clinics, who meet the HFEA criteria and are approved to restart treatments, can begin to re-open subject to strict safety guidelines enforced by the HFEA.

To ensure fair provision, the Health and Social Care Secretary has written to all clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to confirm they are in a position to begin resuming fertility treatments for those in their area with their currently approved providers. He made it clear that all fertility patients should be dealt with fairly and not face any additional disadvantage as a result of the service suspension.

The new measures will mean individuals and couples looking to start fertility treatment will be able to safely continue to do so. We have not yet received any guidance from the CCGs about any changes to NHS funding for IVF due to COVID-19. As and when we receive specific information from the CCGS we will notify you if there are updates which affect your eligibility for NHS funding.

Q: What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 during treatment?

If you start to have symptoms of COVID-19 during treatment, you can choose to cancel your treatment, or we can offer you a test to check if you have an active COVID-19 infection. If you test positive, we will need to cancel your treatment. If you develop symptoms after egg collection but before embryo replacement, we will ask you to freeze all of your embryos and have an embryo replacement once you are fully recovered. To protect all our patients and staff, we will not treat anyone with an active COVID-19 infection until they are fully recovered.

We plan on minimising the possibility of patients developing COVID-19 during treatment by screening everyone before visiting our clinics, and by offering a COVID-19 test. By taking the COVID-19 test before treatment, you can feel confident in starting your treatment and then take informed lifestyle choices to reduce any possible risk of becoming infected while you are having treatment.

Q: What support are you offering patients?

We know that struggling to conceive is emotional challenging, and that many patients feel their anxiety about fertility treatment has been amplified by the current situation. We want all our patients to be able to access much-needed support during this truly difficult and uncertain time.

Our dedicated fertility nurses are available to support you and, though we currently have reduced staff numbers, they can advise you during this difficult time. Our nurses can also refer you to our independent fertility counsellors who are offering appointments by telephone or online via video platforms such as Skype.

One of our counsellors has also written several blogs to support your physical and emotional wellbeing including advice about coping with uncertainty to help you process your emotions and prepare for when treatment resumes.

While you are waiting to start your treatment you can do positive things to get ‘fertility fit’ so you are in the best position possible when your treatment starts – take a look at our blog for advice on improving your fertility at home.

Previous relevant FAQs: 

Appointments and consultations: 

Q: I am at the beginning of my fertility journey. Should I wait to discuss any treatment options with the clinic until it reopens?

A: To fast track your treatment, we are offering virtual consultations with fertility specialist doctors. We would advise you book one of these to begin your treatment as soon as possible once our clinics open. Please email info@bourn-hall.com to book.

Q: I have an appointment booked. Will this still be able to go ahead?

A: We will be in contact with you if you have an appointment booked to discuss the applicable next steps for you.  You may still be able to have a consultation over the telephone or secure virtual platform.

Q: Can I still access counselling services?

A: Please email our nursing team on contact.nurses@bourn-hall.com who will support you and can refer you to an independent counsellor.

Active treatments: 

Q: I have emailed the helpline with my question and have not heard back yet. What should I do?

A: Due to the unprecedented amount of emails we are receiving, it is taking us slightly longer to reply. If you have received the automated acknowledgement email from us, this means we have received your email and one of our team will be responding to you personally as quickly as we can.  Please bear with us, as this is taking a bit longer than usual in the current circumstances, but rest assured we will get back to you. If you are a current patient, we will be contacting you as soon as we can,  following the most recent announcements so please bear with us. 

Q: I have had blood tests recently. Will these need to be repeated?

Depending on how much time passes before we can initiate your treatment, we may need to repeat some of your blood tests. We will aim to minimise this and if you have already paid for virology blood tests that have to be repeated, as a direct result of the delay in your treatment due to the coronavirus, these will be repeated free of charge.

Cryopreservation: 

Q: Are my frozen embryos/eggs/sperm safe?

A: Definitely. Our Embryologists will be continuing to regularly monitor and maintain the cryostorage in all our clinics. They are also continuously electronically monitored for liquid nitrogen levels and temperature to ensure the safe storage of your eggs, sperm and embryos.

Q: What if I have eggs, embryos or sperm frozen and the storage period is due to expire?

The government have confirmed that they will allow anyone who has frozen their eggs, sperm and embryos to extend their storage for an additional 2 years, as part of wider plans to support those going through fertility treatment during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus related queries:

Q: Could having the coronavirus affect my fertility?

A: There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus will have an effect on fertility.

Q: If I am pregnant will Covid-19 increase my risk of miscarriage?

A: According to the RCOG, there is currently no data suggesting an increased risk of miscarriage, early pregnancy loss or congenital effects of the virus on fetal development. More information can be found here. 

First patients resume IVF treatment at Bourn Hall

Bourn Hall is one of the first IVF clinics approved by the government to reopen. Some of the first patients to be given a date to start IVF are those whose treatments were literally ‘put on ice’ as their embryos were frozen to keep them safe until the fertility service could resume.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, talked to BBC Look East about the reopening. “We started developing a strategy to ensure safe working as soon as we knew of the implications of Covid-19. Our staff have the necessary PPE and training and we have access to rapid testing through one of our partners.

As we are not part of a hospital, our patients have the reassurance that there is no risk of Covid-19 infection from other types of patient or staff treating infected patients. We have been delighted to be able to start talking to our patients about when they can resume treatment.”

Emotional impact of delay

Jenna and her husband Shaun, who were told their frozen embryo transfer treatment was cancelled just days before it was due to start in March, spoke to BBC Look East about the emotional impact of this delay.

“I think the difficult moments have come when others don’t seem to understand what we are going through, and have said things like ‘you are lucky you don’t have kids during this time’,” says Jenna. “It makes me feel tearful and angry at times as we had no choice in having our treatment put on hold whilst other couples have continued to conceive.”

Jenna says the couple had thought carefully about speaking out at this time when the National Health Service is under pressure, and other areas of treatment for illnesses have also been put on hold.

They feel it is important that people are aware that the World Health Organisation defines infertility as a disease and being unable to conceive naturally can put an additional strain on mental health, an issue which Jenna already deals with.

“Going through fertility treatment can feel a lonely place, and being able to speak to others going through the same experience can help,” says Jenna. “I reached out to someone via Instagram and I think we have really helped each other during this difficult period of time.

I told her that I would be doing this interview, and asked if she would be interested too. She felt it wasn’t for her, but said it would be amazing if I did this and spoke up for those of us going through it. I thought that if it helps just one person out there who is struggling, then it would be a good thing to do.”

Time slipping away 

Jenna was in her early thirties when the couple started to try for a baby. Conscious that time was slipping away, and aware that a previous medical condition might have impacted their fertility the couple went to see their GP after a year of trying to conceive naturally.

They were then referred for fertility testing, which took place at several different hospitals. It was almost two years before they gained NHS funding for IVF. The couple selected Bourn Hall Cambridge for its reputation – a number of friends had recommended it – and also for its location. “I couldn’t face the thought of coming back on public transport from one of the London clinics after treatment,” says Jenna.

For IVF treatment the ovaries are stimulated to produce many mature eggs at the same time. These are collected and fertilised by mixing with sperm to create embryos.

Treatment is personalised and for some people, like Jenna, the embryos are frozen to allow the woman’s body to recover before embryo transfer to the womb.

Frozen embryo transfer is a quicker and less invasive procedure than egg collection as the embryos have already been created – Shaun and Jenna have 12 frozen embryos in store. The couple were about to start this next stage of treatment in March, a few days before lockdown was announced. Then all the IVF clinics were instructed to cease all treatments.

For Jenna this was devastating: “Just days before I was due to start the medication, I was told the transfer had to be cancelled. I was desperate for it to go ahead, I said I was prepared to take the risk and self-shield, but the decision was taken out of our hands.”

I think Shaun and I have coped well considering the situation, but you do feel time just slipping away from you.”

First patients to start IVF treatment

Since Bourn Hall gained approval from the government regulatory body (the HFEA), the couple have been told that they can continue their treatment as those ready to proceed with frozen embryo transfer and those whose treatments were literally ‘put on ice’ have been prioritised.

“We are fortunate that Bourn Hall is not part of a hospital, so we can get in and out without meeting anyone except the staff. I think this would be reassuring for more nervous patients. Also, you don’t feel that you are taking NHS staff away from life critical treatments.

“When we heard the Health Secretary announce that IVF treatment could resume we were over the moon. I cried tears of joy. Then, when Bourn Hall called to say that I could start my treatment cycle again, there were even more tears of joy to the nurse on the end of the phone that had delivered the much awaited, welcomed and very good news.

“I feel very positive and excited that we are able to continue. We feel that what we have been doing during lockdown has put us in a great physical and mental place to move into the next phase of our treatment.”

Bourn Hall prepares to fast-track fertility treatment

Virtual IVF consultations offer patients a head-start in starting their family.

Putting IVF treatment on hold has been devastating for patients and staff, says Bourn Hall Chief Executive Dr Mike Macnamee, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. As the NHS prepares to resume non-life critical operations the clinic is gearing up for the future by introducing online IVF consultations for the first time.

In line with government advice all new fertility treatments were stopped in March and current patients had their treatment suspended. For many this involved freezing all their embryos ready for embryo transfer when it is safe to do so.

For the clinic and its patients this period has been heart-breaking.

Mike continues: “The guidelines for clinics were introduced overnight and the implications for each patient were different depending on their stage of treatment. This period has been very distressing; particularly for those in their late 30s and above where time is very precious.

“One piece of comfort is that where patients were able to proceed with egg collection and had all their embryos frozen this will not have been detrimental to their treatment outcome, as frozen and fresh embryos have an equal chance of success in creating a baby.”

Preparing to fast-track treatment

Although all fertility testing and treatment is currently on hold, the government announced on May 1st that clinics with a sound Treatment Commencement Strategy could apply to reopen. In preparation for this, Bourn Hall has been working on a robust plan, including the use of PPE, that will ensure the safety of patients and staff.  This strategy has to be approved by the government’s fertility regulator (the HFEA) and the application process to gain this approval can begin from 11 May.

In addition, the Clinic is introducing virtual consultations with a fertility doctor, using a secure online clinical consulting room to fast-track treatment when it is available. IVF treatment takes about 9 weeks.

“If you have results from previous fertility investigations that suggest you need IVF treatment then we are offering online consultations immediately with one of our specialist fertility doctors,” Mike explains. “Our consultant will discuss your results, talk through your treatment options and prepare a personalised treatment plan.”

Time is critical 

If you have not yet had diagnostic tests this is not a problem. The consultant can still give you bespoke advice and put in place a provisional plan. Once the clinic is re-opened, it will be able to quickly perform any necessary tests in one appointment and refine the plan accordingly.

“Time is critical in fertility treatment,” Mike continues. “By having a consultation in the next few weeks you will be in our booking system and we will be able to contact you directly about your next steps as soon as we are able to.

“There is much that people can do while in lockdown to boost their fertility health and the measures we are implementing will mean a smooth and rapid patient journey for those wanting to start a family.”

To book a virtual IVF consultation simply contact our patient services team by email on info@bourn-hall.com.

First Mothers’ Day for Laura after emotional journey

“It was incredible, almost surreal, suddenly holding her. This is the little family we wanted for so long,” says Laura from Welwyn Garden City, who will be celebrating her first Mothers’ Day on 22 March. Baby Elle was born after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall and Laura is sharing her emotional journey to raise awareness of some of the misconceptions that still exist around fertility and give hope to others struggling to have a baby.

Laura and her husband Matt’s fertility journey began six years ago after they got married and started trying for a baby. When Laura didn’t get pregnant she admits she was surprised. “We didn’t have a clue that we would have a problem,” she says.

“When you start looking into it, you appreciate how remarkable it is that anyone gets pregnant. The tiny percentage chance that it’s going to happen started to become a fixation. Also you realise that the assumption is that infertility is a woman’s problem. I was looking at what I could change and what to do differently, trying to get fit and lose weight.”

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, says that eighty per cent of couples will become pregnant within one year of trying so couples who have been trying for longer than this should seek advice.

“Whilst there are a number of steps which couples can take to improve their natural fertility this won’t work for everyone – fertility tests can reveal blocked tubes, endometriosis, issues with sperm count or morphology and other underlying conditions which compromise the chances of natural conception,” says Dr Papathanasiou.

When Laura still hadn’t got pregnant after a year she and Matt sought advice from their GP in Welwyn Garden City and were referred immediately to the local hospital for tests – the results took them completely by surprise.

“At the consultation we were both completely stunned,” recalls Laura. “We hadn’t thought for a moment that there was going to be a problem with Matt’s sperm. The results were pretty bad, and it came as a shock.

“Matt had been a heavy smoker but had given it up some years ago and he had lost a lot of weight. There was nothing more he could do. It was a really tough time for us.”

Many people don’t realise that 40 per cent of infertility cases are due to male factors, 40 per cent are due to female factors and the remaining 20 per cent are either a combination of both partners’ factors or are unknown/unexplained.

Laura and Matt with Elle

Laura and Matt were referred for NHS-funded IVF treatment and chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire. Bourn Hall Clinic was the world’s first IVF clinic and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

At Bourn Hall Clinic Laura and Matt were treated using IVF and ICSI – stimulating Laura’s ovaries with medication so that she would produce many mature eggs at the same time and then injecting selected high quality sperm from Matt directly in to each egg to form an embryo. ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) can help overcome the problem of having only a few good sperm available.

Elle was born following the couple’s third cycle and this also produced other good quality embryos that have been frozen for future treatment.

Sadly, although the couple’s first two treatments both resulted in pregnancies, Laura miscarried within a few weeks.

She says that was when she realised how people still consider fertility a ‘woman’s issue’. “Everyone was lovely, looking after me but no one asked how Matt was. Matt was devastated too, he had always wanted to be a dad.”

Laura thinks that more openness would help men to talk about their feelings and make people more aware of male factor infertility.

The 34-year-old distinctly remembers the overwhelming emotions she felt at holding her daughter for the first time: “I was amazed, over the moon; it was incredible.”

The family are already looking forward to celebrating Elle’s first birthday on 18th April.

Bourn Hall provides free fertility nurse consultations for people concerned about their fertility.

Laura and Matt with daughter Elle emotional journey

 

Sean Sullivan appointed to chair Bourn Hall board

Infertility has a major impact on the lives of those affected, but with an ageing population creating increasing demands on healthcare services, it is expected that the budget for non-life-critical treatments such as IVF will continue to be restricted. Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has appointed Sean Sullivan as Chair of its board of Directors to help steer it through this changing landscape and move into the next phase of its growth.

Delivering new strategies  

Sean Sullivan has gained an enviable reputation for his work in a range of industries including healthcare, working with the management teams of complex organisations to help them deliver new strategies. He was voted UK Turnaround Practitioner of the Year in 2014 and again in 2018 for his work in the public sector.

The outgoing chair is Alan Dexter, who was appointed in 2014 after Bourn Hall was successful in fundraising to expand its network of clinics. For Dexter, it was history repeating itself: he had been the first Business Director of Bourn Hall Clinic when it was established in 1980 by the IVF pioneers Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy. At that time he was brought in to provide the commercial knowledge and business acumen required by its investors.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, thanks Alan for his contribution to the growth and success of Bourn Hall: “Alan has been on the journey with Bourn Hall at key points in its history, providing invaluable wisdom and guidance. We are very grateful to him for his sterling work and he remains a good friend.”

Global reputation 

World renowned for its expertise and innovation, Bourn Hall has established a strong presence across the east of England with full service fertility clinics in Cambridge, Norwich and Wickford and satellites in Colchester, Peterborough, and King’s Lynn. It has won and retained major NHS contracts for diagnosis and assisted conception, including IVF, and provides self-funded treatment for those not able to access NHS treatment.

Dr Macnamee comments: “Successful fertility treatment is time intensive and personalised. Our ethos has always been to deliver the highest quality of patient care and to invest in research and innovation. However, there is increasing consolidation in the industry and pressure from others offering cut-price ‘one size fits all’ treatments.

“Sean has significant experience of repositioning organisations and we welcome his fresh perspectives and in-depth knowledge of the health economy.”

Personal experience 

Sean Sullivan says: “I am delighted to be here. I have always had a particularly high opinion of Bourn Hall and an active interest in fertility, both from my own circumstances and from a personal set of values about the conduct of this area of the health economy. I see Bourn Hall as a source of intellect and leadership in fertility medicine.

“Although Bourn Hall has competition from the larger groups and the local NHS-subsidised clinic, I believe it can outclass them on quality, reputation and success.

“It’s all very well to economise on your cornflakes, but fertility treatment is such a major life-changing transformational process that you will naturally want to choose the very best. If the clock is ticking and you have limited time, are you really going to worry about a modest price difference when Bourn Hall’s industry leading experience and proven quality will contribute towards a successful outcome?

“The team has been successful both in terms of the numbers of individual self-funded patients choosing Bourn Hall and via success in winning and retaining NHS contracts, but there is an opportunity to increase the scope of its offering and market share.

“It’s a competitive healthcare economy. The NHS is ever-tightening its belt. We’ve got work to do, there’s no avoiding that, so for a variety of reasons we can’t afford to slack off the pace. I am looking forward to working with the management team to achieve great things and build on Bourn Hall’s world-leading reputation as a place of excellence.”

North East Essex CCG agrees to reinstate IVF funding

The Governing Body of NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group has today agreed to reinstate IVF provision across Colchester and Tendring – bringing the number of cycles offered in line with Suffolk.

Essex IVF cycles Feb 2020 news feat
NHS IVF provision in Essex. Click to open our blog with the full map.

NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk already provide two cycles of NHS funded IVF and recently renewed their contracts with Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic.

Bourn Hall was first awarded the NHS contract in 2009. It is the only clinic to be reselected three times. With clinics at Colchester, Wickford, Cambridge and Norwich it is also the only NHS provider to be based in the region.

Commenting on the announcement by NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, Bourn Hall Clinic’s Medical Director Dr Thanos Papathanasiou said:

“We are delighted that NHS North East Essex CCG has taken this positive step which will provide a fairer entitlement to NHS-funded fertility treatment for patients across Suffolk and North East Essex.

“Now all patients within the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS) will have the same pathway. If they require IVF treatment and meet the strict eligibility criteria they will be offered two NHS funded cycles of IVF and can choose to have their treatment at any of Bourn Hall’s clinics across the Eastern region.”

Bourn Hall is committed to getting patients pregnant as soon as possible with minimum intervention. It offers testing to enable early diagnosis of infertility to both NHS and self-funded patients and has found that its free fertility advice sessions – which it offers to everyone – have been successful in improving the chances of natural conception.

Dr Papathanasiou continues: “The majority of couples will get pregnant within a year of trying. For those that don’t, we often find that practical advice along with good nutrition, a healthy BMI and medication to increase egg production can help increase the chances of natural conception for many people.

“However, for a small group of people IVF is the only chance of having a baby. This is the final stage of the fertility journey and it seems unfair that access to this medical treatment depends on your GP’s address. Today’s announcement by NHS North East Essex CCG removes the IVF postcode lottery for people living in north east Essex.”

NHS IVF funding in the East of England is a complicated story. We have produced a map which is updated whenever the situation changes – take a look on our blog here.

Hope that North East Essex CCG may reinstate NHS funded IVF in Essex

There is renewed hope that the new integrated care system introduced across Suffolk and North East Essex may remove the IVF postcode lottery and provide a more consistent fertility pathway for patients.

NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk provide two cycles of NHS funded IVF and have renewed their contracts with Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. The third, North East Essex CCG, currently provides no NHS IVF treatment. All three CCGs are part of the same Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS), which is designed to support best practice.

So, Bourn Hall is hopeful that the North East Essex CCG might reinstate funding for IVF to align its policy with the other CCGs.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic comments; “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract to provide NHS funded IVF across Suffolk and Ipswich for a third time. We are achieving excellent success rates and hope that this medical treatment will also become available to those in North East Essex through the NHS.”

IVF postcode lottery

A spokesperson for the NHS North East Essex CCG says the three CCGs within the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System are currently in the process of reviewing their policies.

“IVF treatment is not currently available to patients living in the NHS North East Essex CCG area. Two cycles of IVF treatment are currently available to patients in the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk CCG areas.

“We are proposing that two cycles of IVF treatment be made available to patients in North East Essex who meet the necessary criteria from April 1, 2020, to bring us into line with the treatment available to patients elsewhere in the ICS. This reinstatement will be subject to public consultation and board approval. “

Bourn Hall was first awarded the NHS contract in 2009 and  is the only clinic to be reselected three times. With clinics at Colchester, Wickford, Cambridge and Norwich it is also the only provider to be based in the region.

Get pregnant sooner with Bourn Hall 

Bourn Hall is committed to getting patients pregnant as soon as possible with minimum intervention. It offers testing to enable early diagnosis of infertility to both NHS and self funded patients and has found that its free fertility advice sessions – which it offers to everyone – have been successful in improving the chances of natural conception.

Dr Papathanasiou continues: “The majority of couples will get pregnant within a year of trying. For those that don’t, we often find that practical advice along with good nutrition, a healthy BMI and medication to increase egg production can help increase the chances of natural conception for many people.

“However, for a small group of people IVF is the only chance of having a baby. This is the final stage of the fertility journey and it seems unfair that access to this medical treatment depends on your GP’s address.”

Inconsistent pathway for NHS funded IVF in Essex unfair 

Bourn Hall patient, Claire Owen agrees: “As someone who relied on NHS-funded IVF to conceive, the current postcode lottery seems extremely unjust to me. How can it be fair for people in north-east Essex to be denied treatment while their counterparts in Suffolk receive two funded cycles? In some cases, these people could be living just a few miles apart.

“Of course, I understand that different CCGs have different budgets and can use them accordingly. However, I believe there should be a national standard to which these groups have to adhere, to make the situation fair for everyone. We are all paying the same UK tax, after all.

“Fortunately we moved soon after our son was born, so we did not need to consider whether NHS-funded IVF treatment was available. I can imagine that having to do so must feel incredibly restrictive and, again, unfair if the odds aren’t in your favour.”

The CCG spokesperson continues: “Residents in North East Essex will shortly be asked for their views about the proposal to reinstate IVF treatment along with 63 other clinical policies. Subject to the responses received from members of the public, the proposal will need to be ratified by the CCG’s governing body before it becomes policy.”

Other parts of Essex also have a postcode lottery. NHS Mid Essex CCG and NHS Basildon and Brentwood CCG currently provide no funding whereas NHS Thurrock CCG provides 3 cycles of IVF.

Bourn Hall is hopeful the review will result in a return of NHS funding for IVF in North East Essex and perhaps encourage other CCGs to review their policies to end the postcode lottery for IVF.

For more information about fertility advice, testing and treatment for NHS and self-funded patients.

New role for Tanya as Marketing and Patient Experience Director

In recognition of her contribution to improving patient service at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, Tanya Jackson-Turner has been promoted to the new position of Marketing and Patient Experience Director.

A patient’s mental and physical wellbeing are both equally important for successful fertility treatment and feeling supported and listened to are important elements of this.

Tanya’s previous role was Bourn Hall’s Head of Patient Services. Using her experience gained from customer-facing roles in other sectors, including the brand Cath Kidston, she has introduced new ways to gain and respond to patient feedback.

This has resulted in improvements to services delivered by Bourn Hall and enhanced levels of patient satisfaction at its clinics across the East of England.

Nicola Graver, HR Director at Bourn Hall, comments: “A strength of Bourn Hall is the accumulated knowledge and expertise of our people and when people like Tanya join the team from other industries they bring fresh insights and new approaches. Tanya’s contribution since she joined us six years ago has been very beneficial to the patient services team.”

The fertility journey starts when a couple has been trying to conceive for a year without becoming pregnant. Bourn Hall is able to provide advice and treatment that is aimed at achieving pregnancy as soon as possible with the minimum of intervention.

Tanya will take over responsibility for Bourn Hall’s marketing activities including management of the website, social media, events and advertising. Tanya is the same age as the average Bourn Hall patient and therefore has an excellent insight into communicating with this audience in the most effective and empathetic way. Tanya has also been involved in helping patients access information and support through initiatives such as the introduction of free nurse consultations.

Tanya says: “Bourn Hall is best known for its high quality IVF treatment and excellent success rates but many people are unaware that we also offer fertility advice, testing and other types of treatment. I always enjoy meeting people early in their fertility journey at our events, and this type of contact is one of the elements that has helped us to tailor our services to meet their needs.

“Working at Bourn Hall I feel part of a big family, all supporting each other in achieving a dream for our patients. I am very proud to become a Director.”

For more information about working for Bourn Hall