Level down or level up? NHS funded IVF in Luton and Bedfordshire

The emotional impact of infertility is huge; research has found that infertility almost doubles the risk of depression in women and causes strain on relationships*. The Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) CCG has launched a consultation about whether it should reduce its support for NHS funded IVF in Luton from February 2022.

Currently if you live in Bedford or Milton Keynes, you may be eligible for one cycle of NHS funded IVF. However, if you live in Luton the treatment is the full three cycles, as recommended by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) for providing the best chance of success.

Bourn Hall has been providing NHS treatment to the people of Bedfordshire for over ten years. In 2019 the live birth rate for NHS patients in Bedford was 43%, which is significantly above the national average and for those from Luton it was nearer to 70%.

Dr Mike Macnamee, Chief Executive of Bourn Hall, says: “The number of people requiring IVF is very small but for those involved it is life-changing. In Bedford over the last five years, we have treated 312 couples, resulting in 119 babies.

“Infertility is caused by many factors, which creates many unknowns for treatment. Offering the potential of three fresh cycles reduces the stress for patients as they know they can have another chance.

“Involuntary childlessness blights lives. The CCG has the option to level up and offer three cycles to all patients in Bedfordshire. Knowing that they have been given this chance removes the ‘if only’ and can help people move on to create fulfilling lives, even if they are not ultimately successful.”

For patients Angeliqua and Haydn Smith from Luton, the three cycles gave them Isabella, now 20 months old. She was conceived after their third – and final – round of NHS-funded treatment.

Angeliqua says: “Were it not for us being able to access the full three rounds of NHS-funded IVF treatment we would possibly not have our beautiful daughter. Life is just magical now!

“Three cycles is what is recommended by NICE and we strongly believe that other couples in Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes in need of IVF treatment all deserve to have the same chance of success that we had. Everyone deserves a chance to become parents.”

NHS funded IVF in Luton

BLMK CCG is proposing to reduce the current offer of three cycles of IVF to residents in Luton to one cycle for all eligible patients. The public consultation runs from 12th October to 21st December and the CCG particularly wants the views of people not directly affected by the cut.

So, if you know someone that is struggling with infertility then do participate in the consultation.

The questionnaire is available on this link.

Bourn Hall provides appointments at its clinic partnered by Luton and Dunstable Hospital .

* Infertility-related stress and the risk of antidepressants prescription in women: a 10-year register study Juliana Pedro et al. Human Reproduction, Volume 34, Issue 8, August 2019, Pages 1505–1513, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dez110

Bourn Hall is the latest signing at Wickford Town FC

Lads from Wickford Town Youth U9 Pumas will debut this season with their kit sponsored by the fertility clinic Bourn Hall, which has a new clinic based in the centre of the town.

Wickford Town Youth U9 Pumas
Wickford Town Youth U9 Pumas’ kit, sponsored by Bourn Hall

The sponsorship deal was expertly brokered by one of the player’s mums, Shanna Mattacks, a former IVF patient.

“The team are excited about the start of the season and they will be playing their first game this weekend,” says Shanna, whose son Henry plays for the team.

Struggled to conceive

That first match will be extra special for Shanna, who feared she might never be able to have children.

She had cancer as a baby, which meant one of her kidneys had to be removed followed by radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy – both treatments can damage the ovaries, where the eggs are stored. She was then told at 21 after investigative surgery that she had severe endometriosis, where cells similar to those lining the womb had blocked the tubes from her ovaries. This meant there was no chance of her getting pregnant naturally.

Fortunately, her eggs had survived, and Shanna had successful IVF treatment in London, resulting in the birth of her son Henry. Her daughter Arabella is a Bourn Hall baby, conceived after it opened a clinic in Wickford, close to her home in Basildon.

Shouldn’t be hush hush

Shanna feels that having the Bourn Hall branding on the kit will encourage others to gain advice and not miss out on their chance to see their children playing football.

“Some people try and try for a baby and don’t understand what is going wrong. For me I knew it was coming.

“I want people to talk about it. I don’t want infertility to be this big ‘hush, hush’ thing because it is what it is, and it’s quite common.

“I am so pleased that we have got the Bourn Hall branding on the boys’ shirts, because now it is ‘out there’ and it might encourage others to get advice.”

Fertility Fair 6th November

For others concerned about their fertility Bourn Hall has a free virtual Fertility Fair on Saturday 6th November where health professionals will answer questions by chat. Find out more information and register for the Fertility Fair.

Shanna with Henry and Arabella
Shanna with Henry and Arabella

Bourn Hall welcomes plans to remove 10 year limit on freezing

Plans to extend the time limit for storage of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos has been welcomed by Bourn Hall. Medical Director Dr Thanos Papathanasiou says: “Currently the limit is 10 years, which creates an additional stress for couples and individuals, who may feel forced to make a decision before they are ready.

“Technology for freezing has improved and people are starting their families later. The reasons for freezing are diverse but may include not being ready or able to start a family, medical conditions, surgery or treatment that might lead to premature infertility, or undergoing gender re-assignment.”

Research from the Royal College of Obstetricians has suggested that with modern freezing technology eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration. Once thawed and used for IVF treatment the success rates are related to the age of the egg not the woman carrying the pregnancy.

Freezing keeps options open

The most common reason for egg freezing is to preserve fertility ahead of surgery or medical treatments that could compromise future fertility, for example surgical treatment for endometriosis or cancer therapies. It can also be used when there is a family history of premature menopause, and women that freeze their eggs for this reason may be in their twenties with a small window of opportunity to use their eggs. Egg freezing can also be an opportunity for women to keep their options open to have a baby in the future when the time is right for them.

Sperm freezing is an option that can also be used for fertility preservation ahead of surgery or treatment that could impair future fertility, such as chemotherapy.

Embryo freezing is used to store fertilised eggs during fertility treatment. It is recommended that one embryo is transferred for each treatment cycle, so additional embryos are frozen for further treatment if that cycle is unsuccessful, or for siblings at a later date.

Removing time pressures

Currently, when the ten years is up, prospective parents must decide whether to undergo fertility treatment, donate to research or to have the cells destroyed. Having to make this choice forces patients into a decision that they might not be ready to make.

Under the new system, they would be given the option to keep or dispose of the frozen cells or embryos at ten-year intervals, with a maximum of 55 years. The legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

Dr Papathanasiou says: “The proposed changes will provide greater choice over when to start a family and remove a time pressure on individuals and couples that for many is hugely stressful.”

We can help you start a family – Bourn Hall supports Essex Pride

There is no question you can’t ask about LGBT+ fertility treatment. Bourn Hall clinic’s friendly team will be on hand at Essex Pride on 21 August 2021 to chat to visitors about the different options available for starting a family. 

Essex Pride is celebration of the LGBT+ community, attracting around 4,500 visitors to Chelmsford’s Central Park. Alongside the array of musical and entertainment acts there is also a Showcase area with organisations offering support and information – including, for the first time this year, Bourn Hall Clinic. 

“It is really important for Essex Pride to give people access to information,” says Essex Pride Chair Garry Ormes. “If I am an LGBT+ person thinking about having children; how can I go about it? What are my options? Bourn Hall helps people have families and I am delighted that it has become a sponsor and will be there on the day in the ‘showcase arena’ as visitors enter the event.” 

Success after gaining info at Pride

Help to choose a sperm donorMelissa and Zoe with Harley and Logan
Melissa and Zoe with Harley and Logan

Melissa and Zoe from Essex are now mums to Logan and Harley after two successful fertility treatments at Bourn Hall and they agree that access to as much information as possible is important. The couple first began to consider their own options after going to a Pride event in London a few years ago. 

“When I celebrated my 30th birthday I suddenly felt as though I didn’t want to leave it too late,” says Melissa. “There were all sorts of stalls at the event about parenting, including adoption, and we started to think about how we were going to go about starting a family.” 

The couple decided that they would like to have treatment at a regulated fertility clinic using donor sperm and opted to go to Bourn Hall after it was recommended by friends. The couple had IUI (Intrauterine insemination), where donor sperm is inserted directly into the woman’s womb, and the treatment worked first time on both occasions.

Safer with a registered clinic

Deciding to start a family is a big step and by using a licensed UK fertility clinic same-sex couples have the reassurance that they will both be a child’s legal parents and that the donor will have no legal status, although children born from donor conception may seek the identity of their biological parent(s) once they are 18 years old.  

Melissa is full of praise for the treatment and care they received at Bourn Hall. 

“Everyone at Bourn Hall was just fantastic,” she says. “They made us feel so comfortable and we felt more protected doing everything through a regulated fertility clinic. 

“I am really pleased that Bourn Hall is going to be at Essex Pride this year.” 

Read more about Melissa and Zoe’s story here.

Many options for LGBT+ fertility treatment

Bourn Hall has a state of the art fertility centre in Wickford, Essex supporting patients across Essex and beyond. Lead Clinician Dr Arpita Ray says that the LGBT+ community have a range of fertility options, and these are being discussed at Pride.

She says: “Females with regular periods can become pregnant with IUI, and this is less invasive and cheaper than IVF treatment. IVF is more costly because it requires medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce many mature eggs at the same time, and these are then fertilised with donor sperm. The success rates with IVF can be higher and there may be frozen embryos available for further treatment or siblings. We would always talk through the patient’s options and help them to select treatment that is right for them.”

Bourn Hall also supports same-sex male couples who may require surrogacy, and transgender people for fertility preservation.

Senior Fertility Nurse Specialist, Jackie Richardson, will be part of the team staffing Bourn Hall’s stand at Essex Pride. She says: “It is never too early to talk about your fertility options. For transgender people considering gender reassignment we can discuss options for preserving your fertility, as decisions about hormone treatments may impact your fertility.”

“For same-sex female couples we can advise about how your age and health can impact your options, same-sex male couples may require donor eggs and the support of a surrogate.  There are also fertility preservation options for trans people.

“The thing I would say is that there is no question you can’t ask. If it is something that is concerning you, then Essex Pride is a good place to start a conversation and all of us at Bourn Hall are delighted to help.” 

Come along to Bourn Hall’s stand to discuss LGBT+ fertility treatment.

Find out more about Essex Pride at essexpride.org.

NHS-Funded IVF Treatment ‘Comes Home’ to Cambridgeshire

The world’s first IVF clinic, Bourn Hall, has welcomed the decision today (6th July 2021) by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG to reinstate NHS-funded IVF in the county.

It was 40 years ago that Bourn Hall co-founder, Professor Robert Edwards, first appealed to the health authority to make treatment at the world’s first IVF clinic available to NHS patients.

He wrote “…for a considerable amount of patients the only hope (for a pregnancy) is to undergo fertilization in vitro and embryo transfer… we have a proven success rate which is superior to that obtained by other methods….

“…these patients have paid their contribution to the NHS and, now they want treatment, they are not being allowed to receive it. I cannot allow this situation to rest as it is, especially since, at long last you have been advised that it is professionally accepted that our approach offers the only hope of conception for some women… I cannot see any excuse for excluding one group of patients from the correct form of treatment.’

Now it looks like NHS-funded IVF treatment is coming home and once more it will be available to NHS patients from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, following a landmark decision today to reinstate funding for those who meet the strict eligibility criteria. The proposal is to fund one fresh cycle and up to two frozen embryo transfers, potentially giving patients three chances to achieve a pregnancy – subject to ratification next month.

Dr Mike Macnamee, Chief Executive of Bourn Hall, says the news will bring hope to many. He says: “All of us at Bourn Hall are delighted by the CCG’s decision and we look forward to welcoming NHS patients from Cambridgeshire back to our clinic.

“For the last four years the Cambridge clinic has been in the very strange position of being able to provide NHS IVF treatment to patients across the East of England – but not to those who live on our doorstep.”

To read the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG statement. 

Hannah Turner and her husband, from Cambridgeshire, had NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall which worked first time. Their son Emmett was born in August 2016 – a year before Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG took the decision to cease funding.

“I would have been devastated if we hadn’t been able to have NHS-funded treatment,” she says. “It is absolutely heart-breaking for those who have not had that option over the last four years and I am so delighted that this is set to change.”

Hannah and Emmett
Hannah and Emmett

Funding was halted by the clinical commissioning group in 2017 against public opinion. This meant that Bourn Hall could treat NHS patients from Bedfordshire, Luton, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex – but not Cambridgeshire. The place where the IVF pioneers established a clinic following their success with the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown and trained the consultants who would set up their own clinics worldwide, making the treatment available to millions of people.

Last year, Bourn Hall Cambridge achieved record IVF success rates.

Dr Macnamee continues: “When you are experiencing infertility, your whole life can feel as though it is in limbo; being able to have treatment is so important. Even if people are not successful, they have the knowledge that they have done everything they could and can move on with their lives.”

Donna and Ronnie
Donna and Ronnie

Donna Young agrees; she and husband Chris from Cambridgeshire had NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall in 2015 and she is now mum to Ronnie, aged five. Their IVF treatment also worked first time.

“We often look back on our journey with Bourn Hall and are still so thankful for their support and for having our treatment funded by the NHS,” she says. “Even offering one try on the NHS offers hope, we are proof of that. We had one try and were successful. This isn’t going to be the case for everyone but it can help people achieve their dream.”

Postman Dan celebrates Father’s Day with his own ‘special delivery’

A postman from Bedfordshire who spent years delivering Father’s Day cards to other people whilst going through the heartache of not being able to have a child of his own is looking forward to spending Father’s Day this year with his very own ‘special delivery.’

Dan with son HendrixSpeaking ahead of Father’s Day, and now a proud dad to one-year-old son Hendrix, Dan, aged 33, says: “Being a Dad is something that I had always wanted but as time went on thought might never happen.”

The impact of miscarriage on the male partner is often overlooked by friends and family.

Dan and his wife Sarah initially thought that they were well on the way to parenthood when they conceived naturally after just two months of trying – but then fate dealt them a cruel blow.

The couple were devastated when Sarah had a miscarriage and it took them another two years to find the courage to start trying again. Sadly, Sarah went on to have two further pregnancies which ended in miscarriage – and after that the couple were unable to conceive again naturally.

Dan says: “The whole experience really took its toll on me emotionally. There were times during our journey when I thought I would never get the chance to celebrate Father’s Day. As each year passed, becoming a Dad felt further and further away.”

After the couple’s third miscarriage and a year of being unable to conceive again they were told that they would be eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge after diagnostic tests revealed that Sarah had a blocked fallopian tube.

Bourn Hall is the world’s first IVF clinic and treats both NHS and self-funded patients from across the East of England.

Dan and Sarah

At last Dan allowed himself to feel more optimistic. “We were so excited,” he says.

IVF involves stimulating the woman’s ovaries to produce eggs, which are collected and mixed with her partner’s sperm in the embryology laboratory. The resulting embryos are graded to determine which would have the best chance of success when transferred to the womb.

“We ended up with eight fertilised embryos, three of which were A grade top quality,” says Dan. “One was transferred to Sarah and we had two to freeze.

“I will always remember the day that we went in to Bourn Hall for the embryo transfer. It was Saturday 15 June 2019, just a day after our wedding anniversary and the day before Father’s Day.

“We couldn’t believe our luck when ten days later the pregnancy test showed up two lines.

“We knew that because of everything we had been through we needed to get beyond the ‘getting pregnant’ bit, so were apprehensive but we did have hope. We somehow knew that this time would be different. Bourn Hall had given us our confidence back.

“The next nine months seemed to go in slow motion as I was so desperate to meet our little miracle.”

Dan with Hendrix
Dan and his ‘Special Delivery’!

The couple’s son Hendrix was born on 1 March 2020 – three weeks before the first lockdown.

“He was completely perfect. I was so proud of Sarah,” says Dan.

“We had waited so long for him and had been through so much pain and now he was here and there are no words to describe what a perfect moment it was. He just lay there and we couldn’t stop staring at him, it was perfect. We just felt the most overwhelming feeling of love.”

This year as Dan completes his rounds delivering Father’s Day cards he knows that when he gets home there will be a card waiting for him too.

“Father’s Day now has a completely different meaning for me, I love it!” he says.

[Top image credit: Kerry Northey Photography]

 

John Arthur joins Bourn Hall Clinic as Finance Director

Many people will be considering a career move after lockdown, and John Arthur has seen it as an opportunity to work for an organisation that makes a meaningful difference to people’s lives. He has joined Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, as its Finance Director.

John Arthur
John Arthur

John, who is married with two children, says: “The pandemic brought home to me the importance of family; a number of friends have struggled to conceive, and I have seen the impact this can have on their lives. Being able to have children is something it is easy to take for granted, and I think working for Bourn Hall is a chance to give something back.”

John is a Fellow member of the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants and has worked for a diverse range of organisations across different industry sectors, including healthcare consultancy.

From strength-to-strength

He is to replace Simon Barton, who is retiring. Simon has worked at Bourn Hall for nearly 30 years and was one of four directors to be part of a management buyout of Bourn Hall Cambridge from the pharmaceutical organisation Serono in 2005. Bourn Hall has gone from strength to strength since that time, opening full-service clinics in Norwich and Wickford and a number of smaller satellites to enable patients across East Anglia to access fertility treatment closer to their homes.

More recently, Bourn Hall has had an injection of funding from Triangle Healthcare Partners, a Canadian-based investment firm, enabling it to respond to increasing demand for its fertility services since the pandemic.

Simon Barton
Simon Barton

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, says: “Simon has been a central member of our management team and has become a close friend. His insight and experience have significantly enhanced Bourn Hall, and I and all the staff will miss him greatly.

“In John we have found someone with equally high ethical standards and technical skill. I look forward to working closely with John to take Bourn Hall to the next level.”

Improving access to treatment

Bourn Hall works in partnership with many parts of the NHS across Bedfordshire, Essex, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, supporting patients at every stage of their fertility journey. Through long-term relationships it has been able to provide excellence in customer care and optimise IVF success rates for NHS funded patients.

John sees many parallels with his previous role as Finance and Operations Director of Thriplow-based Clarion UK, which provides specialist services to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, enabling them to achieve equal access to mainstream services.

He says: “I have previously enjoyed working for organisations that are people-centred. At Clarion UK our main aim was to level the playing field; we were working to provide equal access to communication services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people across healthcare, education, employment and legal environments and providing specialist education support to higher education students with special education needs. Bourn Hall has a similar ethos and makes a real difference to the lives of individuals.

“I think there is potential to improve efficiencies in the system and introduce new technologies that will benefit both patients and staff. I can bring expertise from other sectors to help facilitate this.”

Bourn Hall chosen to provide NHS patients with IVF treatment in Hertfordshire and West Essex

Following a thorough procurement process, Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has been awarded a further term of five years to provide IVF treatment to NHS patients across Hertfordshire and West Essex.

Bourn Hall was first awarded the NHS contract for the whole of the East of England in 2009, and since then the clinic has been able to improve treatment, and increase success rates for patients in the East and North Hertfordshire CCG, Herts Valleys CCG and West Essex CCG areas resulting in this third awarding of the contract.

The CCGs in Hertfordshire and West Essex provide eligible patients with one cycle of NHS funded IVF and specialist fertility treatment – with Bourn Hall clinics located throughout the Eastern region at Cambridge, Colchester, Norwich and Wickford, patients can choose a clinic that is close to them without the need to travel into London, or too far away from home.

virtual IVF consultation

Commenting on the announcement, Bourn Hall’s Chief Executive Dr Mike Macnamee said:

“We are delighted to be continuing to help people on their journey to parenthood throughout the region and to be providing a service to our NHS partners and to be awarded this contract for a third time, is a real recognition of our team’s work.

Bourn Hall has continued to deliver personalised care and treatment to patients, and provide data, insight and intelligence to support the future commissioning of fertility services with the aim of improving outcomes, customer care and patient choice.

We are committed to giving everyone the opportunity to start their family and today’s announcement will ensure that patients will continue to have the option to start their journey with Bourn Hall.”

Founded by the pioneers of IVF treatment, Bourn Hall today treats more than 3,500 self-funding and NHS funded patients each year from its clinics in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk. Over the last year, the pandemic has created challenges for healthcare services, but also the opportunity to rethink the way that services are offered. Bourn Hall continues to respond by offering virtual consultations and dedicated specialist clinic environments that enable patients’ flexibility, safety and excellent success rates.

Endometriosis can cause infertility – but few women are aware

It takes on average eight years to get a diagnosis for endometriosis which is a debilitating gynaecological condition that can damage the reproductive organs.  53% of sufferers will have been to A&E with excruciating pain. Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall’s Medical Director, sees many women with the condition, he says that few knew how the disease would impact their fertility.

This is something that is often not fully explained prior to surgery to treat the condition. To raise awareness and provide advice on how the condition affects fertility, Bourn Hall is organising a webinar, ‘Endometriosis and Fertility’, during Endometriosis Awareness Month, coordinated by Endometriosis UK.

Paula

Paula from Haverhill in Suffolk suffered an early miscarriage as a newly-wed. She didn’t imagine that it would be the only time in her life that she would get pregnant naturally. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive again, Paula was shocked to discover that she had endometriosis, a disease where tissue similar to that found in the lining of the womb can grow over the ovaries and fallopian tubes. She is sharing her story to raise awareness of the condition.

Paula says: “I had always suspected that I might struggle to have a baby as my periods had become increasingly erratic since I was a university student and my mum had fertility issues when she was younger. However, it came as a complete surprise to be told that I had endometriosis as, although I didn’t have the classic symptoms, my diagnosis was classed as ‘severe’.”

Up to half of those with endometriosis have fertility issues

Around one in ten women in the UK have the condition, with symptoms that can include: painful, heavy or irregular periods; pain during or after sex; painful bowel movements; fatigue; and infertility. Its symptoms are similar to other conditions, meaning it can take years to get a definitive diagnosis – and up to half of those with endometriosis will have fertility issues.

New research by Endometriosis UK has found that 62% of women (aged 16-54) would put off going to a doctor with symptoms of endometriosis because they don’t think don’t think they’d be taken seriously, or think symptoms including painful periods are normal. This statistic rises to 80% of 16-24-year-olds.

Commenting on the new research, Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK said: “Endometriosis is a long-term chronic health condition affecting 1.5 million in the UK, yet it still all too often considered a taboo or not important due to links with the menstrual cycle. Symptoms including chronic pelvic pain, painful periods, painful bladder and bowel movements, and infertility, can have a major, life-long impact, physically and mentally. But far too many find their symptoms are not believed nor taken seriously.

“Myths such as “chronic period pain is normal” or “you must have a low pain threshold” manifesting in society, workplaces, schools, and even healthcare settings contribute to those experiencing symptoms being put off from seeking medical advice and contribute to diagnosis taking on average a shocking 8 years.

An inquiry by MPs into the impact of endometriosis highlighted the devastating impact endometriosis can have on all aspects of a person’s life, the recommendations included introducing menstrual well-being in the school curriculum so that young people recognise the warning signs of menstrual health conditions and know when to seek help.

Egg freezing to preserve fertility ahead of surgery

Dr Papathanasiou says: “Endometriosis is a progressive condition, so being aware of the implications at an early stage can help to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.

“Women with severe endometriosis symptoms may need complicated and delicate hospital surgery to remove adhesions and this can sometimes result in long-term damage to their tubes and ovaries. It is important that women are informed before such a procedure that they have the option to freeze their eggs, which would preserve their fertility should they want children in the future.”

Endometriosis can cause infertility

Following their early miscarriage, Paula and her husband Mark soon started trying again for a baby – but as the months went on nothing happened.

“The early miscarriage hit me really hard because it was only five weeks after we got married,” says Paula. “I was devastated but it did give me hope that, despite my irregular periods, I was able to get pregnant.

“Slowly, one by one, lots of my friends started getting pregnant. I wanted to shut it out. I would put on a brave face and smile and then go back home and think to myself ‘when is it going to be my turn?’”

The couple went to see their GP, who sent them for tests. “Mark’s tests all came back fine but my blood tests showed up some abnormalities,” says Paula.

A laparoscopy revealed that Paula had severe endometriosis as well as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), another common cause of infertility.

PCOS and endometriosis can run in families and Paula’s mum also suffered with a lot of pain. “After having her three children she finally had a hysterectomy to alleviate her symptoms,” says Paula.

Referred for IVF

Paula and Mark were told that they were entitled to NHS-funded IVF treatment and they opted to go to Bourn Hall Clinic just outside Cambridge. In July 2013 they had their first IVF treatment at Bourn Hall and were delighted when it was successful. Son Ethan was born in April 2014 and Paula was overcome with emotion. “I just burst in to tears,” she says.

After their successful NHS-funded IVF treatment, the couple saved up enough money to pay for two further cycles should they need it because once a couple has a child they are no longer eligible for NHS funding for IVF. Their second treatment at Bourn Hall was also successful the first time and their second son Oscar was born in November 2017.

“I am over the moon with my two boys,” says Paula, who works as a Data Manager. “We have got the family of four we always wanted. It is just brilliant.”

Webinar 

Bourn Hall is hosting a free webinar to discuss how endometriosis can cause infertility, ‘Endometriosis and Fertility’, on Thursday 11th March at 7pm.

Endometriosis UK provides vital support services, reliable information and a community for those affected by endometriosis – it is fund-raising during March to help further its work and to raise awareness of the condition. More information is available at endometriosis-uk.org. 

To donate to Endometriosis UK and support their work visit: bit.ly/JustGivingEndoUK

Paula and Mark with Ethan and Oscar
Paula and Mark with Ethan and Oscar

Record IVF pregnancy rates for Bourn Hall in its 40th year

In its 40th Year, Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge has achieved record IVF success rates. In 2020, 56% of patients having IVF with a blastocyst (5-day embryo) transfer achieved a pregnancy.

Snowdrops at Bourn Hall IVF pregnancy rates
Signs of Spring at Bourn Hall Cambridge, the clinic has announced record IVF pregnancy rates

Martyn Blayney, Head of Science, comments: “I am immensely proud to present the Cambridge clinical pregnancy rates for 2020, which, when viewed overall, represent the best performance we have ever recorded.

“This is an immense achievement when you consider that we were locked down for several months of the year and had to adapt to working in a global pandemic.”

“When I first joined the Embryology Department 32 years ago, we were elated if 20% of patients who had multiple embryos transferred were pregnant at day 15. Now, patients receiving a single fresh blastocyst, regardless of their age, are more likely to leave our clinic clinically pregnant than not.

“This is an incredible achievement to which every member of staff in every department has contributed – well done everyone.”

Keeping going through the pandemic

The clinic closed for a period during the first lockdown in March 2020. Within a few weeks it had developed new ways of working to protect staff and patients from infection and was given approval to reopen by the government IVF regulator the HFEA. New measures included reducing the number of visits required to the clinic, introducing PPE, limiting the amount of patient and staff contact and moving consultations online. It has also introduced a new virtual fertility support group open to everyone with fertility challenges.

Bourn Hall gives patient centred care and this would normally include considerable face-to-face contact; although the patient experience has changed over the last year, the success of treatment has not only been maintained but actually improved.

Martyn continues: “The measures taken in response to the pandemic – a decrease in scans and the strategies to minimise patient and staff contact, to name just two – have been found to be well and truly validated.”

Record IVF pregnancy rates

Bourn Hall was the world’s first IVF clinic when it opened in 1980 and there was a 10% chance of success.

Years of dedicated work in embryology and treatment are behind the increase in success rates and this continues today.

Martyn comments: “Our frozen/thawed embryo outcomes are particularly pleasing. A small focus group identified minor changes that could be made to optimise our luteal support*. This change has undoubtedly contributed to a year-on-year improvement culminating in 2020’s class equaling 45.6% per cycle, a full 10 percentage points above the national average.”

“When you factor in the tremendous upheaval that the pandemic has caused to routine and perceived best practice then these results are nothing short of remarkable.”

More information about Bourn Hall IVF success rates.

To compare with the national averages please see the HFEA website. 

*Luteal support is the administration of medication, generally progesterone, to increase the success rate of implantation and early embryo development.

It’s time to talk openly about male infertility

A recent BBC documentary, Rhod Gilbert: Stand up to Infertility, shone a light on male infertility and the taboos which still exist around the subject. Former Bourn Hall patient Matt found that opening up to friends and family played an important part in his journey to becoming a Dad.

Matt was shocked to discover that it was male factor infertility which was standing in the way of him and his wife Laura having a baby – and initially put on a brave face to people around him. It was only when the stress of keeping his feelings to himself started to take its toll on his mental health that he opened up – and he is now urging other men in this position to do the same.

Matt says: “When the fertility results first came back and it was an issue with my fertility, I have to admit it hurt a lot. The results were pretty bad, and it came as a shock. I didn’t really want to talk about it, felt guilty and quite depressed.

“I think that our culture dictates that men shouldn’t talk about their fertility openly. I’ve got plenty of really close mates but it feels almost like a taboo to talk about it down the pub. The default is to laugh it off with a bit of banter and bit of humour which alleviates the glumness, but sometimes you do need to talk to someone.”

In a recent study by researchers from De Montford University 41 men who had received a male factor infertility diagnosis highlighted the enormous impact on their emotional and mental health – with more than 90 per cent saying it had a negative impact on their wellbeing and self-esteem. Common themes which came up were feeling depressed, lonely, anxious about a future without children – even suicidal – yet nearly 40 per cent had not asked for help.

Matt now recognises that not initially talking about how he felt had a damaging impact:

“My nature isn’t to worry about what people think, but I just couldn’t bring myself to open up about it with anyone,” he says. “I am not going to lie, it really took its toll on me and my close friends could see that I had changed.”

“Once I did start talking to close friends and family it really helped. Now, I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”

It’s time to talk openly about male infertility

Happily Matt and Laura are now parents to 22-month-old Elle after successful IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, and Matt is keen to use his own experience to help others.

He recently co-hosted a webinar on male infertility, organised by Bourn Hall, where he talked in depth about his emotional journey to fatherhood. Hosting the event alongside Matt was urologist and Bourn Hall male infertility expert Oliver Wiseman who explained what a semen analysis test reveals, how men can improve poor sperm quality and what treatment options are available.

“Now that I am a dad I would really recommend talking,” says Matt. “Society sometimes dictates that men are not allowed to share their feelings and get off their chests what is really bugging them. At the end of the day male factor infertility is not a failure it is not a deficiency, it is just physically how you are built and there is nothing to be ashamed of. I found that as the emotional toll crept up on me I wasn’t short or snappy I just became a lot more withdrawn and I think that if you recognise those signs in yourself or other people it is definitely important to start a dialogue because at the end of the day there are options out there and it will get better.”

You can watch Matt speak in Bourn Hall’s free webinar ‘Its a game of two halves: Tackling male infertility’ by registering for an on-demand recording.

It’s time to talk openly about male infertility

New year brings new investment for Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic

Expansion plans for Bourn Hall Limited, which has a network of IVF fertility clinics across the east of England, have been strengthened following a substantial investment from Triangle Healthcare Partners, a Canadian-based investment firm.

Bourn Hall was the world’s first IVF clinic. It was founded more than 40 years ago by IVF pioneers Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy following their breakthrough with the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown, who was born in 1978. Since then, over 8 million IVF babies have been born worldwide.

Building on its pioneering foundations, Bourn Hall has developed a patient-centred approach to fertility health and treatment, increasing the chances of early conception. Bourn Hall works closely with the NHS to increase success rates for NHS-funded IVF treatment across Bedfordshire, Essex, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Suffolk.

Demand for fertility treatment is increasing and this investment will be used by Bourn Hall to expand capacity and extend its winning formula internationally.

The existing directors (pictured above) and experienced senior management team led by Chief Executive Dr. Mike Macnamee will remain in their same roles and Andrew Clark, partner at Triangle Capital Corporation, will become Chairman of Bourn Hall.

Andrew Clark said, “We regard Bourn Hall as the world’s leading IVF brand. We admire its services and were attracted to the priority its team places on patient care and experience. We look forward to working with Mike and his senior leadership team on ways to maximise and expand the Bourn Hall brand and services. Our ambition is to work with Bourn Hall to develop strategic partnerships, exploring acquisitions and growth opportunities both in the UK and overseas.”

Dr. Macnamee, said, “Our approach to fertility treatment is based on forty years of expertise and continuing investment in our people and evidence-based treatments. We have established a network of clinics that offer patients personalised treatment programmes, with excellent success rates, close to where they live. With the support of Triangle, we see the opportunity to expand our service and make it available to more patients in the UK and abroad.”

Bourn Hall treats over 3,500 self-funding and NHS funded patients each year from its clinics in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk. The pandemic has created challenges for healthcare services, but also the opportunity to rethink the way that services are offered. Bourn Hall has responded by offering new virtual services that enable patients’ flexibility to fit treatment around other commitments.

2020 has seen us respond successfully to unprecedented circumstances. We have evolved our services and approach to maintain success rates while reducing face-to-face interactions

Dr. Macnamee elaborated, “2020 has seen us respond successfully to unprecedented circumstances. We have evolved our services and approach to maintain success rates while reducing face-to-face interactions. This includes introducing virtual consultations and events, and moving services online, such as fertility support. Patient consents are now online, supported by educational resources, and social media is used more widely to provide updates.

“Triangle’s investment will support our continued success and provide opportunities for growth and further development. The directors and I are all looking forward to working with the new board.”

Outgoing Chairman of Bourn Hall, Sean Sullivan, said, “I have been delighted to work with the senior management team to guide them through this changing landscape. I am confident that in Triangle they have found new partners with shared values who will support them into the next phase of their growth.

Mobeus Equity Partners, who have been a minority shareholder since 2013, will be exiting their investment through this transaction. Ed Wass, Portfolio Director of Mobeus, added, “Bourn Hall has continued to perform and succeed in securing NHS contracts and expanding its self-pay patient business, demonstrating that it has a winning formula that provides excellent success rates and patient satisfaction. We are delighted to have been involved in its journey over the previous seven years.”

Top tips for improving fertility health

If your New Year goal is to get pregnant then here are some top tips for improving fertility health that will help increase your chances.

Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has 40 years of treating infertility and it has found that body weight (BMI) has a major impact on the hormones that control reproduction. In some cases, gaining a healthy BMI can help restore ovulation – regular release of eggs – increasing the chance of getting pregnant naturally. BMI is also important for men as being overweight reduces sperm production.

There is strong evidence that good nutrition can improve your fertility and Bourn Hall has introduced a nutritional consultation within its Fertility Health + Wellbeing Package; for those who come to the clinic for its rapid fertility testing and diagnostic service.

Good nutrition has an impact on both male and female fertility

A varied diet, with a range of fruit and vegetables, less sugar and more protein can help to balance the hormones that control reproduction. Reducing stress is also important.

The hormones testosterone and oestrogen are found in both males and females but the relative proportions are different. With men having more testosterone and women more oestrogen.

  • Males – testosterone is produced in the testicles and used for sperm production. If a man becomes obese then more of the testosterone is converted into oestrogen and this reduces his sperm count.
  • Females – oestrogen regulates the menstrual cycle, an increase in oestrogen causes an egg to mature and be released. A hormone imbalance can make ovulation irregular reducing the chances of conception.

Five top tips for improving fertility health

Laura Carter-Penman, Lead Fertility Nurse at Bourn Hall Clinic, provides the following tips:

  • Don’t get stressed about timing ovulation – ovulation happens once a month, so having regular unprotected intercourse two or three times a week will cover this. Keep a diary of your periods though, if they are irregular this is a sign that you are not ovulating.
  • Eat protein for breakfast – an excess of body fat increases the amount of oestrogen in the body, causing hormone imbalance. Unbalanced blood sugar, can make it even more difficult to maintain a healthy BMI. So, eliminating simple carbs such as sweets and biscuits and eating protein, which also makes you feel fuller for every meal can help. Replacing carbohydrate heavy breakfasts such as cereal, with a protein rich one such as scrambled egg or high protein yoghurt with berries is a good choice.
  • Reduce the heat –Overheated testicles can temporarily lower sperm counts, so avoid saunas, hot baths, and tight underwear.
  • Moderate exercise is best – walking and activities like yoga that reduce stress are good. Cycling for long periods on hard bike seats can also reduce fertility through pressure on the perineum, potentially damaging nerves, and blood vessels to the genital area. A gel bike seat can help and provide more cushioning.
  • Increase colour in your diet – leafy vegetables and colourful fruit are rich in antioxidants and help protect you from disease. They also reduce damage to DNA from free radicals – unstable molecules created in the body in response to stress and environmental toxins – improving the quality of your sperm.

BMI and fertility

For both men and women lifestyle improvement can help improve fertility and this is something that you can do while waiting for test results or treatment.

People are often told to lose weight before their infertility can be investigated and to ensure the health of the mother and child during pregnancy. Many women with irregular ovulation can be helped to get pregnant naturally through lifestyle changes for both partners and carefully monitored ovulation induction to help the timing of intercourse.

If IVF is required, then the NHS specifies that you need to have a BMI of 30 or less to qualify for NHS funded treatment.

Fertility health + wellbeing

The fertility health and wellbeing check can provide reassurance and peace of mind about the chances of natural conception or may lead to advice about lifestyle changes that could increase the chances of achieving a pregnancy.

The package includes a suite of fertility tests that are tailored to individual needs, lifestyle advice, support for gaining a healthy BMI, with diagnosis and a consultation with a fertility specialist within 6 weeks.

The Bourn Hall Fertility health + wellbeing package includes:

  • A suite of personalised fertility tests such as semen analysis; AMH blood tests for ovarian reserve and an ultrasound scan.
  • A 30-minute consultation with a nutritionist to look at underlying body system imbalances and a review of current nutrition. This may include blood sugar regulation, gastro-intestinal function, adrenal health, inflammatory processes and liver function.
  • Discussion of the results and findings with a specialist fertility doctor which includes a diagnosis and recommendations for next steps which might include further tests such as a HyCoSy tubal patency test to check that the fallopian tubes are clear.

Bourn Hall provides both NHS and self-funded treatments. If fertility specialists identify that treatment or surgical intervention is indicated, patients will be guided through their options, with advice and support every step of the way.

More information about the Fertility health + wellbeing package and top tips for improving fertility health.

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 to reassure and guide you through this difficult time. We will continue to update this page as information becomes available or changes, but if your question has not been answered below and you still have concerns, please contact us by emailing info@bourn-hall.com

(Updated: 11 July 2021)

Latest FAQS:

Covid-19 vaccine FAQs

Q: Can any of the Covid-19 vaccines affect fertility?

In line with guidance from the British Fertility Society, there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the Covid-19 vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.

Q: Can I have a Covid-19 vaccine during my fertility treatment (IVF, Frozen Embryo Transfer, Egg Freezing, Ovulation Induction, Intra-Uterine Insemination, using donated gametes or not)?

Yes. The British Fertility Society guidance states that although you should have the vaccine, you may wish to consider the timing of having it during your fertility treatment, taking into account that some people may get bothersome side effects in the few days after vaccination that they do not want to have during treatment. It may be sensible to separate the date of vaccination by a few days from some treatment procedures (for example, egg collection in IVF), so that any symptoms, such as fever, might be attributed correctly to the vaccine or the treatment procedure. Your medical team will be able to advise you about the best time for your situation.

Q: Should I delay my fertility treatment until after I have had the Covid-19 vaccine?

The only reason to consider delaying fertility treatment until after you have been vaccinated would be if you wanted to be protected against Covid-19 before you were pregnant.

Q: How soon after having a Covid-19 vaccine can I start my fertility treatment?

Professionals have said you can begin immediately after your vaccine. You do not need to delay your fertility treatment, unless you wish to have your second dose before pregnancy.

Q: I am donating my eggs/sperm for the use of others. Can I still have a Covid-19 vaccine?

Yes. Covid-19 vaccines do not contain any virus and so you cannot pass on Covid-19 by receiving the vaccine. The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority have stated that you must allow at least 7 days from the most recent vaccination prior to donating eggs or sperm. If the donor feels unwell after the vaccination, they must not donate for 7 days after their symptoms have got better.

Q: I’ve just found out I’m pregnant. Should I be offered the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have recently updated their guidance on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccinations, which includes a section on pregnancy and those trying to become pregnant. JCVI advises that, for women who are offered vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination in pregnancy should be considered where the risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection is high and cannot be avoided, or where the woman has underlying conditions that put them at very high risk of serious complications of COVID-19. In these circumstances, clinicians should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with the woman, who should be told about the absence of safety data for the vaccine in pregnant women. JCVI does not advise routine pregnancy testing before receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine. Those who are trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination. For more information, please visit the HFEA website and Public Health England.

Covid-19 test FAQS

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: What is the Covid-19 testing protocol at Bourn Hall?

A: During this period we have introduced some new protocols around Covid-19 testing. These are as follows:

  • Women having IVF/IUI will be required to have two tests – once at the beginning of treatment and once during stimulation/endometrial preparation
  • Women are required to self-isolate from the day of the second test up to and including the final procedure (embryo transfer). Your whole household should also isolate during these dates
  • Women and men will be tested and required to self-isolate before all procedures (SSRs, HyCoSys, Hysteroscopy, endo-scratch)
  • Men do not need to be tested during IVF. They will only need to be tested before sperm storage or donation.

The rationale of this approach follows NHS and NICE guidelines, which indicate that, if one has a negative swab result and has self-isolated since the day of the swab being taken, one should be of low risk for carrying the virus at the time of the procedure.

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

If you or your partner 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 or your partner 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.

General FAQS

Q: With the national lockdown announced on the 4 January 2021, can my treatment still go ahead?

We want to reassure you that we will continue to provide treatment under our current guidelines during the national lockdown in place from Wednesday 5 January. These guidelines were put in place from May 2020 to comply with Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) professional guidelines and keep patients safe. Our full service clinics in Cambridge, Norwich and Wickford are continuing to provide treatment.

We hope that a new national closure of fertility clinics should not be necessary. This is a view reinforced in a statement for patients published by the HFEA on the 5 January.

Q: How can I contact Bourn Hall?

A: Our phone lines are currently open between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. You can also contact us via email on info@bourn-hall.com if you have any queries. 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. 

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: What is Bourn Hall doing to meet the HFEA conditions to keep patients safe?

A: We have a robust plan in place 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.

Q: How do I access the fertility e-consents system?

A: When your consultation was confirmed you would have been sent an email with a link and information regarding logging into the e-consents system.  You need to follow the appropriate clinic link and enter your medical ID (this is your Bourn Hall medical number and not your NHS number) and your password. Clinic links:

NB: Unsure which link to use? The safest rule is to go by your case number – if your number starts BN, you are Norwich; BW – Wickford; and no prefix, so just a number, then Cambridge.

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 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.

Collaborative Statement from IVF clinics in relation to the national lockdown

FERTILIS is a group of independent IVF clinics in the UK formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic to collaborate and represent the independent fertility sector.  Today they issued a statement in response to the government announcement on Saturday:

“We welcome yesterday’s statement from the HFEA that fertility clinics can remain open during the new lockdown. We wish to reassure our patients that they are able to continue with their treatment in a safe environment at this anxious and difficult time.

Fertility clinics in the UK have made every effort to be Covid secure, implementing extensive measures to protect patients and staff according to national guidelines. All our clinics have carried out risk assessments and adopted tailored strategies and procedures for treating patients during the pandemic, including compliance with social distancing requirements and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

We note that the HFEA has recommended consideration of a ‘freeze all’ approach to higher risk patients. This was already a factor in our strategies and will remain an option going forwards where appropriate.

We will continue to monitor the situation at our clinics and have established a committee which will meet regularly throughout the period of the lockdown to keep the evolving situation under regular review and make recommendations about any additional steps that may be required.

This is a joint statement from more than 60 licensed and satellites clinics which have joined forces to work together in exchanging their experience to ensure that safe practices are communicated and shared amongst all colleagues for the safety of patients and staff.”

The group includes senior representatives from, but not limited to,  ARGC- Assisted Reproduction & Gynaecology Centre, Bourn Hall Fertility Clinics, Care Fertility group, The Fertility & Gynaecology Academy and the University of Oxford (OXRM) and the Reproductive Health Group, The Fertility Partnership group, GCRM, The London Fertility Centre, London Women’s Clinics, Nurture,  NewLife Fertility,  The  Reproductive Genetic Institute,  Thames Valley Fertility, Wessex Fertility and Manchester Fertility.

 

 

Anguish for couples as fertility testing goes to bottom of list

Virtual Fertility Fair and ‘quick-start’ fertility testing to help those with lives put on hold.

Fertility testing was one of the non-essential hospital procedures put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and this has created long waiting lists, according to the charity Fertility Network, as hospitals prioritise treatment of those with life-threatening conditions.

Fertility Network, which provides practical and emotional support to those struggling with infertility, has seen a doubling in requests for help during lockdown. Chief Executive Gwenda Burns comments: “The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is worrying and confusing for everyone, especially couples who are trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment.

“At times, we have seen a 100% increase in demand for our services, from all areas of the fertility community.”

The patient-focussed charity is among health professionals and therapists participating in a Virtual Fertility Fair, which launches on 31st October 2020 and continues during Fertility Week. It will provide free online advice to help people concerned about their fertility.

Lockdown created an opportunity for people to consider what they value in life, and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has also seen an increase in enquiries. “The lockdown has been stressful for everyone, but particularly those wanting to start a family as they feel time is running out. The egg store reduces in women after the age of 35 so getting timely advice and access to testing is vital.”

IVF was originally developed to enable women with blocked fallopian tubes to conceive, but fertility is impacted by many factors and there are less invasive ways to improve the chances of pregnancy if a blockage is not the cause.

Dr Papathanasiou continues: “Although stress is not the cause of infertility, being stressed puts the body into continuous readiness for fight-or-flight and this affects the hormones that control reproduction in men and women. Being overweight or having inadequate nutrition can also impact your hormones so getting fertility fit is important.”

At the Virtual Fertility Fair healthcare specialists and a range of complementary therapists will be offering tailored advice for those wanting to conceive and access fertility treatment.

This includes ways to improve nutrition, manage weight loss and obtain stress relief through counselling, reflexology and acupuncture.

Research by Bourn Hall has shown that, even before Covid, it could take months for people to receive a diagnosis for infertility. Last year, it became a provider of NHS fertility testing and diagnosis on a GP referral, and its non-hospital environment has enabled it to continue to offer this six-week diagnostic and treatment service with high levels of safety.

However, to help those where a GP referral is not available or a couple is not eligible for NHS testing, Bourn Hall is launching a quick-start fertility check, which includes the essential initial tests, with flexibility to tailor the paid-for package according to personal circumstances – such as same sex couples or older women – and medical advice.

All these tests are done quickly in one place and the diagnosis discussed with a fertility specialist. For example: a woman with an irregular cycle may need more detailed investigation for conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, or where tests show a male factor issue such as low or no sperm further analysis may be required to determine the cause. At a hospital these tests would involve appointments with different departments and further delays.

“Lifestyle advice and ovarian stimulation are among the ways that natural fertility can be improved, we are urging those that have been trying to conceive for over a year to gain advice,” concludes Dr Papathanasiou.

The Virtual Fertility Fair at www.fertilityfair.uk opens on 31st October 2020, with information available through online videos and downloadable resources throughout Fertility Week 2-5th November. There will also be a session 12.00 – 16.00 on Saturday 31st where visitors can ask their own questions through one-to-one chats with a real person.

There will be a chance to register for a Fertility Week ‘goody bag’, which includes access to free consultations with fertility specialists and therapists.

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.

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 (5 Feb 2020) 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 

Improving personalised IVF treatment

Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director Bourn Hall Clinic
Personalised IVF treatment could be improved with a systems approach says Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director Bourn Hall Clinic

A systems medicine approach could improve fertility medicine, creating opportunities for personalised IVF treatment,  Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, argues at the Fertility 2020 conference 9-11 January 2020.

A large component of fertility is hormonal and this is influenced by physiological and psychological factors that can vary within the same individual on a monthly basis.

Creating a computational model, which could be fed with an individual’s data, would allow recommendations for personalised treatment to be based on a strong evidence base.

Personalised IVF treatment

Dr Papathanasiou has access to over forty-years of patient data from the earliest treatments at Bourn Hall. The clinic was set up by the pioneers of IVF Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy after ten years of experimentation resulted in the birth of Louise Brown.

The tireless record keeping used to identify the right combination of procedures required to provide a robust, repeatable, treatment has continued to the present day; creating a unique archive of data.

Dr Papathanasiou comments: “Twenty per cent of the women that are referred by their GP to us for NHS fertility diagnosis can be treated effectively with lifestyle modification, a further thirty per cent can be helped to become pregnant naturally with monitored ovulation induction. For the remainder IVF is the best treatment.

The Johnson family with Thanos and Louise
Bourn Hall has 40 years of patient data. Dr Thanos Papathanasiou and Louise Brown (the world’s first IVF baby) [right] with Nicola, Kevin and baby Harry
“However, beyond the obvious reasons for infertility such as blocked fallopian tubes and lack of sperm, trying to identify cause-and-effect is not trivial, which substantially hampers both diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.

“Hence there is a need to take an holistic approach to fertility medicine and study all aspects of the network at once. A ‘systems’ approach offers opportunity to gain insight into the underlying mechanisms of infertility not accessible by conventional, reductionist, research approaches.”

Many of the studies in fertility medicine use small data sets and inconsistencies in their approach make it difficult to consolidate the information in a meaningful way. This issue is made more acute as the results are often reported without the necessary caveats about type of study and sample size.

A more holistic approach to IVF

Dr Papathanasiou argues that a computational model would improve as more data sets were added. He is presenting three posters at Fertility 2020, which illustrate the type of data that could help inform the model.

  • Use of AMH to indicate ovarian response
  • Optimising egg retrieval in woman at risk of OHSS
  • Improving outcomes in egg collection 

Dr Papathanasiou comments that some of the fundamental information about IVF treatment is not readily available.

“It is very clear from our studies that fertility fluctuates from one month to another. Early detection of this would enable clinicians to decide when to progress with egg collection and this would improve success rates in treatment. Additionally, women of different body weights and AMH levels require personalised dosage appropriate for the protocol to be used.

“Collating data for all patients in a consistent way and using this anonymised data to create a computational model has the potential to provide the basis for a personalised diagnosis and treatment strategy for each individual.

“There is much debate about use of adjuvants for particular patients, but no one really knows how these can help particular patients. A systems medicine approach would enable these questions to be answered with science rather than conjecture.”

Fertility 2020

Fertility 2020 is a joint Conference of the Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Fertility Society and the Society for Reproduction & Fertility. The event has become the largest UK educational forum focusing on fertility and reproductive medicine. The theme for the joint annual conference is

‘Reproduction in a changing world‘ featuring an exciting, cutting edge programme of high profile, scientific international and UK speakers, with a wide range of concurrent sessions focussing on specialist areas in fertility and reproductive biology.

The event is being held in Edinburgh from 9-11 January and will also feature over 200 scientific poster presentations, a large trade exhibition and a packed networking programme.

About Fertility 2020

An emotional journey to motherhood

“When you are struggling to conceive it can feel as if everyone around you is either pregnant or holding a baby, and that is really tough,” says Louise, of Thaxted, speaking about her experiences ahead of Fertility Week (28 October – 3 November).

Bourn Hall is launching a free fertility diagnosis service in Fertility Week to help couples like Louise and Matt gain a diagnosis earlier.

“When we realised that pregnancy wasn’t going to happen easily we went to our GP. All the tests were done on me initially and looking back I feel that was time wasted when we could have been having treatment.”

Louise, a mortgage underwriter, was 28 when she met Matt, a plumber and retained firefighter, through mutual Facebook friends. The couple got engaged after six months and married soon after.

“We took everyone by surprise!” laughs Louise. “Matt is six years younger than me and it was actually him who brought up the subject of having children first. I wanted to wait until we got married and so a year later, after our wedding, we started trying for a baby.

“We had no reason to think that we would struggle but as time went on I just didn’t fall pregnant. “I was in my early thirties and really conscious that women’s fertility declines at 35. I felt like we were running out of time. ”

Eventually the couple went to see their GP and Louise underwent a series of tests requiring multiple trips to the hospital. When Louise’s tests couldn’t detect any issues the spotlight moved to Matt. A check of his medical notes pinpointed that operations he had as a child might have affected his sperm quality and that was the reason they were struggling to get pregnant.

Louise continues: “The hospital consultant then told us we had less than one per cent chance of conceiving naturally and referred us for IVF. We were fortunate that it was possible to have NHS funding, but I did feel that if Matt had been tested at the same time as me we could have been referred for IVF sooner.”

The couple chose to go to Bourn Hall in Cambridge for their IVF treatment and had ICSI, where the best quality sperm is injected directly into the woman’s egg.

The couple’s delight when the first cycle of IVF worked was short- lived when Louise miscarried. After two further cycles of NHS-funded treatment the couple then paid for a fourth cycle themselves and Louise fell pregnant again, with twins. Sadly, Louise had ‘vanishing twin syndrome’ where although two embryos seem to be developing only one survives. The couple were on tenterhooks for the rest of the pregnancy with lot of scans for reassurance, until she eventually gave birth to son Jack in May 2016.

“After everything we had been through Matt wasn’t sure we should try for any more children but I really wanted Jack to have a sibling,” says Louise. “So after a while we decided to go back to Bourn Hall for further treatment.”

News they were pregnant with twins was again, devastatingly, followed by a miscarriage. The couple wondered whether they wanted to put themselves through any more IVF treatment as it had been an immensely emotional journey but they decided to give it one last go.

“I found out that I was pregnant on my 37th birthday,” says Louise. “We didn’t tell anyone at first but I had a good pregnancy. Our daughter Jessica was born in September this year. We definitely made the right decision to try again. Jack adores her and can’t stop kissing her.”

“When I talk about what we have been through I think ‘wow’ but when you are living through it you just do it and I am so lucky to have an amazing family and friends and a husband who is incredibly supportive. If you had told me six years ago that I would be a mum of two I never would have believed them.”

In addition to being a long standing provider of NHS funded IVF, Bourn Hall has recently become a NHS qualified provider for fertility testing. During national fertility week Bourn Hall is launching a new free Fertility Diagnosis and Ovulation Induction treatment service for people referred by their GP.

The new service provides rapid access to specialised tests for both partners at the same time in a dedicated fertility clinic, with no waiting lists and the results in six weeks.

To find out about Bourn Hall’s new level 2 free fertility diagnosis service go to NHS Fertility Services page

To coincide with Fertility Week Bourn Hall is hosting a free Fertility Fayre at its Cambridge Clinic on Saturday November 2.

For more information go to bournhall.co.uk/news-events/

One small step starting school, first big milestone for their parents

Adele Woodward and Adam Miller from Ipswich are, like thousands of 4 year-olds around the country, starting school this September – but for both sets of their parents it is a very special day they thought they might never experience.

Their parents were unable to get pregnant naturally and received NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Colchester. This week the two ‘Bourn Hall Babies’ popped in to visit the staff at the clinic before their big day.

Dr Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Clinician IVF in Suffolk
Dr Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Clinician

Dr Arpita Ray, Lead Clinician at Bourn Hall Colchester, was delighted to see the duo:

“Starting school is a big step in a child and their parents’ life and is even more special for those parents who thought they might never be able to have a child at all.

“Since Bourn Hall opened its doors in Colchester we have helped thousands of couples from Suffolk and Essex to have a family of their own and it is always fantastic to see those babies and follow their progress as they develop into little people. It was lovely to get a visit from Adam and Adele, they were just delightful.”

Lost weight to overcome PCOS 

Adele’s parents Rachel and Arren Woodward had IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Colchester because of fertility issues caused by Rachel’s Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is one of the most common causes of infertility in women.

Dr Ray is an expert in PCOS and says diagnosis of the condition often only occurs at the point that a woman experiences fertility issues:

Arren and Rachel with Adele
Arren and Rachel with Adele

“PCOS is a complex syndrome that produces a wide variety of symptoms, which makes it difficult to both diagnose and treat,” she says.

“Patients often report having seen different specialists over a number of years for treatment for various symptoms – acne, excessive facial hair, weight gain, heavy periods – without the realisation that the problems all have the same cause.”

Rachel went on a low-carb, high-fat diet and lost over a stone in weight before her successful IVF treatment. She says, “When I saw the positive pregnancy test it was the first time I had seen one and it seemed surreal. I firmly believe that the weight loss had an impact on our chances of conceiving – and that the change in my mental outlook had an impact too.”

Thought I would miss out on all the precious moments

Adam’s mum and dad had IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Colchester after being told they had unexplained infertility. For a long time Cara Miller thought she may never be a mum, and experiencing a milestone such as her own child starting school seemed out of reach.

“I spent years facing the prospect of never having children of my own,” says Cara. “Watching adverts on TV featuring small children used to literally make my heart ache. I tried not to let myself daydream about all the little moments I was going to miss like giving my own child a bath, bundling them up in a fluffy towel, kissing and smelling the top of their head and putting them to bed.”

Cara and Stewart with Adam and Evie
Cara and Stewart with Adam and Evie

When Cara took a pregnancy test after her treatment at Bourn Hall she was overwhelmed to see the result. “When the result showed up positive I just cried and cried. I was over the moon, I just couldn’t believe it.”

When Adam was a toddler, Cara and husband Stewart returned to Bourn Hall and now have a baby girl, Evie, aged 8 months.

Infertility complex so advice from fertility specialist is a good step

Forty percent of infertility cases are due to male factors and forty per cent are due to female factors, with the remaining 20 per cent either a combination of both partners’ factors or unexplained – so expert advice is invaluable.

Bourn Hall is holding a Fertility Awareness Roadshow  in Ipswich Wherstead Park, Ipswich on Saturday 21 September, which is an opportunity for anyone to come and ask questions.

New service – NHS Fertility Diagnosis and Treatment 

Bourn Hall has recently been awarded NHS Qualified Provider status and is now able to offer a free fertility diagnosis and ovulation induction treatment service to patients referred by their GP, with no waiting times or need to visit the hospital.

Read more about this here.

Find out more at Fertility Awareness Roadshow 

Bourn Hall is offering a free mini-consultation with a fertility nurse specialist to anyone concerned about their own fertility at its next free roadshow event being held at Wherstead Park, Ipswich on Saturday 21 September. More information here.

 

Louise Brown spreads the joy with a free cycle of IVF

Saddened by the lack of funding available for couples needing IVF, the world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown is heading up an initiative by IVF Babble, the online IVF and fertility magazine, that has so far donated 24 cycles of free IVF. Bourn Hall is the latest clinic to contribute a cycle of treatment.

Since Louise’s 40th birthday last July the campaign has given away 24 cycles of IVF and five women are currently pregnant as a result. The first baby was born on 11 July 2019.

Louise explains why she became involved: “My mum would be amazed at the way IVF has developed and the techniques available to people today. I was given the middle name of Joy, because they felt IVF would bring the joy of children to so many people.

“I hear so many heart-breaking stories from people who are unable to make their dream of having a baby come true, that I was happy to support this campaign by IVF Babble.”

Bourn Hall supports the initiative 

Louise’s parents were patients at Bourn Hall and her sister Natalie was conceived at the clinic in Cambridgeshire, which was the first in the world to offer IVF as a medical treatment. Bourn Hall is the most recent clinic to support the initiative.

Tanya Jackson-Turner, Head of Patient Services at Bourn Hall, says: “Giving away one cycle of treatment is not going to solve the wider problem, but we have excellent success rates and even one chance has been life-changing to many of our patients.

“As Cambridge is the home of IVF and Louise has joined us to mark many milestones we are pleased to get involved.”

World renowned

IVF Babble co-founders, Tracey Bambrough and Sara Marshall-Page, said they were delighted to be working on the project with Bourn Hall:

Tracey said: “Bourn Hall is world-renowned for its work in fertility and we cannot thank them enough for supporting our campaign. It has been a devastating time for so many people across the UK who have been affected by the decision of the CCGs to restrict or remove IVF treatment.

“This initiative is just one small way we can do our bit to help a community that needs our support and without clinics such as Bourn Hall getting on board we would not be able to do it. We know how much it means to our followers as we only have to look at our inboxes each day and see the heartbreak they feel when refused help from the NHS.”

IVF Babble and Bourn Hall give free IVF cycle 

To be considered for the free cycle of IVF, potential patients need to complete the form on the IVF Babble website.

The package includes initial consultation, pre-treatment tests, one cycle of IVF treatment, plus ICSI if required. It excludes the cost of medication. The person must have a healthy BMI and the upper age limit for IVF with own eggs is 43.

IVF treatment typically takes about six weeks. It has an intensive period of monitoring during the first few weeks, which means that it is best to attend a clinic close to where you live – Bourn Hall has full service clinics in Cambridge, Norwich, Colchester and Wickford.

Free consultation 

Bourn Hall is also offering to all those that apply and live within the east of England a free fertility nurse consultation to review their medical history and make recommendations for next steps. Some of these applicants might also be able to gain free IVF treatment by participating in an egg or sperm-sharing programme or may wish to participate in the money-back guarantee programme, which reduces the risk of treatment.

Full terms and conditions are on the IVF Babble website; enter through their form here.

The offer

IVF Babble and Bourn Hall give free IVF cycle – this includes:

  • Consultation
  • Cycle monitoring appointments (Blood work and ultrasounds)
  • Egg retrieval procedure with anaesthesia
  • Fertilisation of eggs using ICSI
  • One embryo transfer (Fresh or frozen)
  • Cryopreservation of remaining embryo and one year of embryo storage
  • It excludes medication and donor treatments.

BMI must be below 35 and the age limit is 43 for treatment with your own eggs.

People in Cambridgeshire lose out in IVF postcode lottery

Today the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire CCG has announced it will not change its decision to cut all NHS funding for IVF.  This makes Cambridgeshire one of a very few places in the country where this treatment is not available on the NHS.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician of Bourn Hall Clinic comments: “This news will be devastating for the couples for whom IVF offers them the only chance of having a baby and that have been waiting to hear this decision. Infertility is a medical condition that can have a lifelong impact on emotional wellbeing.”

IVF postcode lottery

Cambridge is the home of IVF, as the treatment was developed at Bourn Hall by Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy after their breakthrough with the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown in 1978. The co-founders campaigned hard to get the treatment available through the NHS and the clinic provides NHS treatment to patients from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk – but not Cambridgeshire.

Until 2014, Cambridgeshire patients were able to access 3 cycles of NHS-funded IVF – the recommended course of treatment – and this was highly successful. 8 out of 10 couples receiving NHS treatment at Bourn Hall had a baby. Funding was later reduced to 1 cycle, but still about half of those treated had a baby. These success rates are well above the national average.

Donna and Chris with son Ronnie IVF postcode lottery
Donna and Chris with son Ronnie

Donna and Chris had NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, which resulted in them becoming parents to son Ronnie. Donna had four miscarriages in the space of six years and was then unable to fall pregnant again.

“Cutting the NHS funding for IVF has a dramatic impact on people’s lives and mental health,” says Donna. “Even offering one try on the NHS offers hope, we are proof of that, we had one try and were successful. This isn’t going to be the case for everyone but it can help people achieve their dream.

 

Impact of cuts to IVF

A recent survey undertaken for Bourn Hall examining the impact of the cuts to IVF in Cambridgeshire revealed two-thirds of those struggling to conceive had been left in limbo waiting for a diagnosis or treatment. The survey attracted 300 responses – two thirds directly affected by infertility and a third who had seen first-hand the impact of infertility on friends and family members.

Three quarters of those directly affected by infertility said they needed treatment but weren’t able to afford it (unlike other forms of private healthcare IVF is not covered by insurance policies). Responses described levels of stress, which resulted in admittance to hospital, loss of jobs, treatment for depression and mental health, breakdown of relationships, isolation and the worsening of other medical conditions

Improving pregnancy rates 

The clinic has world-leading knowledge of fertility and has proposed an integrated pathway that Bourn Hall can provide to enable the CCG to improve outcomes for patients at all stages of their journey; including using its experience to improve pregnancy rates without the need for IVF.

The Bourn Hall pathway reduces costs compared to the existing NHS service and this saving could have been used to offset some of the cost of reinstating IVF funding.

Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall
Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou continues: “Fertility is time sensitive – egg quality and quantity decline rapidly once a woman reaches the age of 35 and ageing also impacts male fertility, so early diagnosis is vital. The current patient pathway is disjointed with many delays reducing the window of opportunity for pregnancy.

“In Norfolk, we work closely with GPs to provide an NHS fertility diagnosis and treatment service, that enables 30 per cent of patients to become pregnant naturally, without the need for assisted conception. We are looking forward to being able to offer this experience to other CCGs across the region and the savings will off-set the cost of IVF for the few that need this treatment.”

We are disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision not to reinstate NHS funding for IVF treatment in Cambridgeshire. Only a very small percentage of the population needs to have IVF but the emotional impact of infertility on that small group must not be underestimated.

“For those patients who come to us for IVF who are funding their own treatment we now have more options than ever for them to access the treatment they need including multi-cycle and money-back guarantee packages and free IVF options for patients able to sperm or egg share.”

You can read the statement from the CCG here.

https://www.cambridgeshireandpeterboroughccg.nhs.uk/news-and-events/latest-news/statement-on-specialist-fertility-services/

Bourn Hall gains NHS contract to provide fertility diagnosis and treatment in Norfolk

Following the success of its partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, a number of Norfolk CCG’s will directly commission Bourn Hall to provide fertility investigations, diagnosis and ovulation induction treatment, known as Level 2 services, to NHS patients following a GP referral.

Bourn Hall has over 40 years of expertise in supporting patients with fertility issues and the innovative Norfolk model for fertility treatment will see GPs having direct access to this specialist expertise.

Now that Bourn Hall is an NHS  qualified provider of level 2 fertility services, GPs will be able to refer patients directly via the e-referral system to any Bourn Hall Clinic in the East of England, including Norwich, Cambridge, Colchester, King’s Lynn, Peterborough or Wickford.

Patients will be given a first appointment with a fertility nurse specialist to discuss medical history and to schedule fertility testing. Once testing is complete the individual or couple receives a consultation to discuss the results and next steps. The GP will be kept informed on outcomes creating an efficient pathway of care.

From its experience at providing Level 2 services on behalf of the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Bourn Hall has designed a service that enables 30 per cent of patients to become pregnant naturally through life-style advice or with medication to stimulate regular ovulation.

Medication such as Clomid improves the chances of natural conception for those with ovulatory issues but needs careful monitoring of the ovaries to avoid multiple births. This is a good example of where a dedicated fertility clinic can provide benefits; as the patient is seen by the same team each time who can give support for both emotional and physical wellbeing.

Creating a calm, supportive environment for fertility care supports the success of treatment.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, lead clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic, comments: “The arrangement with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital aimed to release its Consultants to focus on other Gynaecology conditions while at the same time providing fertility patients with better outcomes.

“It was shown to be a win-win situation and we are now looking forward to expanding this service and working directly with GPs to deliver an excellent fertility service for their patients.”

Fertility investigations and diagnosis

From 1 July 2019, North Norfolk CCG, Norwich CCG, South Norfolk CCG and West Norfolk CCG’s will commission Level 2 Fertility Services – Investigations/Diagnostics – directly from Bourn Hall. Patients with GPs in these areas can choose to attend their nearest clinic which could be King’s Lynn, Norwich, Cambridge or Peterborough.

Please contact us for more information

Devastating – infertility survey reveals heartbreak behind withdraw NHS funding for IVF

Stop press – on 6th August 2019 it was decided not to reinstate NHS funding for IVF treatment in Cambridgeshire 

Cambridgeshire people have shared their experiences to persuade the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (C&PCCG) to reverse the IVF funding cut.

“Devastating” is how infertility has been overwhelmingly described by respondents to an in-depth survey commissioned to assess the impact of withdrawing all funding for specialist fertility treatment in Cambridgeshire.

In 2017 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (C&PCCG) became one of only five CCGs out of 208 in England that provides no funding for IVF treatment. It agreed to review the decision in 2019 and said it would take into consideration the impact that its decision has made.

No significant impact on budget

Estimates suggest that less than 150 people in Cambridgeshire would be eligible for NHS funding for IVF each year – equivalent to 0.03% of the total CCG budget – so the cutting of one cycle of funding has had no appreciable impact on finances.

The survey attracted 300 responses – two thirds directly affected by infertility and a third who had seen first-hand the impact of infertility on friends and family members.

75% of those directly affected by infertility said they needed treatment but weren’t able to afford it. Unlike other forms of private healthcare IVF is not covered by insurance policies.

Impact on mental health 

Responses described levels of stress, which resulted in admittance to hospital, loss of jobs, treatment for depression and mental health, breakdown of relationships, isolation and the worsening of other medical conditions:

“It instilled distance between me and friends who had children as I struggled to cope emotionally. I felt I was failing our families and parents who were so looking forward to becoming grandparents. My life focus became only about conceiving, my desire to succeed in my career waned and I was less creative, less productive in my role.”

“It is a big strain on your relationship, the worry and stress of all the tests and still not knowing the outcome. Most importantly trying to lead a normal life around others that don’t know what you are going through.”

“It put huge pressure on my marriage. I also lost lots of friends along the way because they were having their own families or they didn’t know the right things to do or say to support us. Health wise the waiting game caused problems with endometriosis/PCOS. I lost my job (in the NHS) so financial pressure and stress all took its toll on my mental health.”

The survey also revealed how the decision to remove access to IVF has meant the whole fertility service has suffered. Hospital gynaecologists, stretched for resources have had to prioritise cancer and other treatments over advice that might improve couple’s chances of conceiving naturally.

Left in limbo 

Two thirds of the patients referred for fertility testing after 2017 have been left in limbo – either still waiting for results or unable to access treatment.

Waiting times for appointments and delays in diagnosis can have serious consequences as fertility is time sensitive – egg quality and quantity declines rapidly once a woman reaches the age of 35.

All the patients requiring treatment that took part in the survey had been made to wait at least two years after seeing their GP before they were referred for testing – regardless of age or medical history – with a further wait for first appointment. This means the chances of success are further diminished and years wasted.

Cambridge home of first IVF clinic

Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has over 40 years of fertility experience and led research into the hormone-based drugs used in treatment. Doctors at Bourn Hall are acutely aware that successful treatment involves the body, mind and heart.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, lead clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic explains: “Although stress does not cause infertility it can impact the hormones used to control reproduction in both men and women. A smooth pathway from diagnosis to treatment and beyond can remove this stress and provide a resolution for patients. It can enable them to move on from this stage of their lives even if this doesn’t ultimately involve a child.”

Alternative ways to improve patient outcomes

Just across the border, Bourn Hall provides a fully integrated fertility service in Norfolk with direct referral from the GP. This has seen an increase in natural pregnancies, shorter waiting times, reduction in costs and improved outcomes. The outcomes include births but also consideration of alternatives such as adoption, fostering and support for resolution, including counselling to give closure and provide help to move on.

Dr Papathanasiou comments: “Giving good advice at an early stage supplemented by minimal interventions helps 30% of the couples we see in Norfolk conceive naturally. Of the remaining patients some will require surgery and others IVF treatment.

“We can make these types of decision within 6 weeks of a patient referral. Only a third of those requiring IVF will be eligible for NHS funding but many of the others can be helped with egg and sperm sharing programmes or through financial packages that offer a full refund if treatment is unsuccessful.”

When NHS funding was available in Cambridgeshire, and the full National Institute for Heath and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines were implemented, treatment at Bourn Hall resulted in eight out of ten NHS patients having a baby.

Cost-saving 

Following early sight of the survey results, Bourn Hall has made a proposal to the C&PCCG to offer an integrated fertility pathway from GP to resolution and demonstrated that the cost-savings achieved can be used to mitigate the cost of reinstating NHS funded IVF treatment.

Dr Papathanasiou concludes: “It takes a community to raise a child. This survey shows the impact that infertility also has on friends and family. Sadly, fertility treatment is not always successful but having the opportunity to try is an important part of the healing process. “We hope to be able to use our experience of fertility care to help C&PCCG streamline the service, reinstate NHS funded IVF treatment and improve patient outcomes for all.”

More information about NHS funding.

More information about the results of the survey.

Dad celebrates his first Father’s Day

IT specialist Luke from Cambourne is young, healthy and fit and runs marathons in his spare time, so it was a surprise to him and his partner Hannah when it was revealed that both of them had fertility issues.

The couple first started trying for a baby in 2015 but when they hadn’t conceived after 12 months Hannah went to see her GP. “I knew that there was potentially a problem with me because I had irregular periods as a teenager and my periods took ten months to start again after I came off the pill,” says Hannah.

Only half the story

Hannah and Luke assumed Hannah’s irregular periods were the reason that she wasn’t falling pregnant – but it transpired that this was only half of the story. Tests revealed that Luke, aged 33, had a low sperm count which, coupled with Hannah’s subsequent diagnosis of polycystic ovaries, significantly lowered the couple’s chances of conceiving naturally.

“We were really surprised when it turned out that Luke had fertility issues too,” says Hannah.

Luke agrees: “It was very hard to deal with as it was just something which had never crossed my mind,” he says.

“I remember feeling helpless and not knowing what I could do to change things.”

One third of couples who are tested for infertility will discover that there are contributory factors on both sides. For Hannah and Luke the news hit them hard: “When we found out that we both had fertility issues it was pretty devastating,” admits Hannah, aged 32.

“Seeing adverts for pregnancy tests and baby products on TV was just one small way we were reminded of our difficulties and it was a really hard time for us. We just had to get on with it really and keep ourselves busy. Luke tried a few of the tips suggested for improving sperm count such as wearing loose underwear, exercising and not drinking, but it didn’t help particularly.”

Funding for IVF

Fortunately, this was just before Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG cut funding for IVF and Hannah and Luke were among the last to be eligible for one round of NHS-funded treatment before it was withdrawn.

When NHS funding was available in Cambridgeshire – and the full National Institute for Heath and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines of three cycles of IVF implemented – eight out of ten NHS patients had a baby following treatment at Bourn Hall, the NHS provider for the east of England.

Hannah and Luke choose Bourn Hall’s Cambridge IVF clinic, so they didn’t have to go to London for part of the treatment. “Living so close made everything more straightforward for us,” says Hannah.

“We didn’t have to stress about being late for appointments. If the car had broken down on the way we could probably have finished the rest of the journey on foot so we were very lucky!”

The couple had IVF using a procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) which is commonly used where the sperm needs a bit of ‘extra help’ to achieve fertilisation. Hannah’s eggs were collected and then Luke’s sperm was directly injected in to her eggs in the laboratory before transferring two embryos to her womb.

Surreal 

Fathers day joy
Bourn Hall patients Hannah and Luke with their children Adeline and Max

Heartbreakingly, the couple’s first round of treatment was not successful. “I only produced three eggs and we had one viable embryo for transfer. The embryo didn’t take and I had a period after two weeks. It was very sad,” says Hannah. “We had saved up in case we needed more treatment and we knew that we wanted to try again. We gave it a few months and I did a 10k run whilst Luke did another marathon before going back to Bourn Hall.”

Two weeks after embryo transfer a pregnancy test confirmed that the treatment had worked. “We were grinning like maniacs. It never crossed our minds that both embryos might have taken,” laughs Hannah.

When a scan revealed that the couple were expecting twins “It was beyond good news,” says Hannah. “We were shocked but ‘happy shocked’!” Twins Max and Adeline were born eight months ago – “it was surreal when they were born, it was amazing,” says Hannah.

“Now the twins are here it is hard to imagine our life without them,” says Luke. “I look forward to all the new experiences we will have together. They are just a constant source of happiness.”

For a limited time only Bourn Hall is running half-price fertility health and wellbeing checks which includes semen analysis, AMH and an ultrasound scan more information.

Note: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG will review its decision to cut funding for IVF in a meeting on 2 July. The eligibility criteria is however very strict and before it was withdrawn only about 150 couples a year benefited from funded treatment.

Professor Edwards campaign for NHS support for IVF revealed in archive

The ethics of withholding IVF treatment because of lack of financial support was challenged by Professor Robert Edwards in October 1981, it has been revealed in papers from his archive.  The University of Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre is making the IVF pioneer’s private papers open to the public.

Edwards along with fellow pioneers Jean Purdy and Patrick Steptoe achieved a breakthrough with the successful birth of the world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown and then went on to establish Bourn Hall as they failed to get support to set up an NHS clinic.

Louise Brown comment: It is fantastic that the papers of Robert Edwards have been preserved for future generations to learn about how IVF began. So many of the issues that faced my mum and dad, Lesley and John Brown, are still relevant today. The battles that the pioneers Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy faced are similar to those that scientists and doctors are having today as they develop new techniques around the world.”

The ethics and funding of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are still open for discussion today – the cut in NHS funding for IVF treatment is to be discussed by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG on 2nd July.

Professor Edwards would have been familiar with the current arguments, he struggled to get funding to develop IVF techniques and writes to the Department of Health in 1974 pointing out, ‘Our major concern is to help the many patients who could benefit by the rapid development of this method, for it could avoid many operations now carried out, which could become unnecessary.’

Edwards Papers
Copyright permission from Robert Edwards’ family. Click the letter to open full size.

After setting up Bourn Hall with the support of private benefactors the treatment became available only to those able to pay for treatment.

Edwards was concerned about this and wrote a letter to the health authority in 1981:  ‘…these patients have paid their contribution to the NHS and, now they want treatment, they are not being allowed to receive it. I cannot allow this situation to rest as it is, especially since, at long last you have been advised that it is professionally accepted that our approach offers the only hope of conception for some women… I cannot see any excuse for excluding one group of patients from the correct form of treatment.’

Cambridgeshire Health Authority replied to Edwards’ appeals for support, ‘Our current allocation is insufficient to maintain the service that we already provide. There is, therefore, no way in which the Health Authority can meet the expense of NHS patients attending your clinic.’

Also in the papers are Edwards attempts to gain recognition for the contribution of Jean Purdy.

In correspondence released between Edwards and Oldham Health Authority in the lead up to the unveiling of an official plaque to mark the birth of Louise Brown, Edwards argues numerous times for the inclusion of Jean Purdy’s name to sit alongside his own and that of Patrick Steptoe.

He writes arguing for fair recognition and states that Jean Purdy ‘travelled to Oldham with me for 10 years and contributed as much as I did to the project. Indeed, I regard her as an equal contributor to Patrick Steptoe and myself.’

Unfortunately his repeated appeals fell on deaf ears and Oldham Health Authority did not take on board his request and her name went unrecognised on the official plaque.

A memorial to Jean Purdy was unveiled in 2018 to mark the 40th Anniversary of IVF. to give Jean the recognition that she deserves.

The archive is now open to the public more information about the papers:  click here

 

Baby Bear is the first for Bourn Hall Wickford

The first baby has been born following treatment at the new Bourn Hall Wickford fertility centre, less than a year after it opened. Bear’s mum Leonie was so delighted to have a positive pregnancy result she drove to Tesco in her pyjamas to buy more tests, she just couldn’t believe the good news.

For Leonie, who met her husband Chris at 19, having children was always on the radar. “We got married four years ago and started trying for a baby straightaway but I had a feeling that I might struggle to conceive.” She had had an operation on her ovaries at 15.

IVF Essex success 

After years of trying to conceive the couple got advice from the GP and were prescribed Clomid to boost Leonie’s egg production. When this was unsuccessful the couple were told that they were eligible for NHS-funded IVF and chose to go to Bourn Hall just as the new full service fertility centre was just opening close to where they live.

“We are absolutely delighted for Leonie and Chris,” says Dr Arpita Ray, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall’s Essex clinics.

“We have a double celebration, our first baby and the first anniversary of the clinic. Leonie and her husband were also the first NHS patients to have their consultation at the new clinic in its first week of opening and their heart-warming story demonstrates the life-changing impact of NHS funding. ”

Embryo freezing gives couple more chances after IVF Essex success
Leonie and Chris at Bourn Hall before Bear was born

NHS funded IVF in Essex

Bourn Hall Wickford provides fertility advice, support and treatment for people at every stage of their fertility journey and Bourn Hall is the only fertility clinic based in the East of England offering NHS funded IVF to the people of the region (this covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire).

IVF Essex success story Bear was born in April – less than a week after Leonie’s 31st birthday – and his parents are now happily adjusting to life as a family of three at their home in South Ockendon.

The couple also have five embryos from their treatment frozen at Bourn Hall, which means that if they later want siblings for Bear they will be able to have a Frozen Embryo Transfer cycle without the need to undergo another full cycle of IVF.

Leonie says: “Chris is an only child and we always wanted more than one child so it is really reassuring to know that we have those embryos in the bank for the future.”

Mental and physical wellbeing 

Only a very small percentage of people who struggle to conceive need IVF and Bourn Hall Clinic offers a wide range of fertility services as well as comprehensive fertility testing and expert advice on improving natural fertility. Steps which both men and women can make to try and boost their natural fertility include reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking; cutting down on caffeine and maintaining a healthy weight.

Leonie with Bear, Bourn Hall Wickford's first baby

Free event: Fertility Fayre 26th October 2019

Visitors will have the opportunity to talk to a range of fertility experts and support organisations as well as meet complementary therapists specialising in fertility acupuncture, reflexology, nutrition and fitness. There is no need to register for the event – just drop in anytime between 11am and 2pm on Saturday 26 October 2019   Attendance is entirely free of charge. More information

Home of Patrick Steptoe, ‘Father of IVF’, honoured with Blue Plaque

Patrick Steptoe’s lifework was remembered at a ceremony to unveil a blue plaque at his childhood home in Witney. Peter Brinsden (on left with Steptoe’s son Andrew on right), was taught the new fertility treatment by the ‘father of IVF’ at Bourn Hall.  This was the world’s first IVF clinic and where the techniques that would transform the scientific research into a robust medical treatment were developed.

Peter says: “I remember so well learning the fundamentals of this new specialty of IVF at Bourn Hall. In particular I remember how Steptoe was almost obsessive about the importance of doing one’s very best for each and every patient and the quality of their care.

“He was a hard taskmaster! Being taught by him how to collect oocytes/eggs via the laparoscope was quite daunting, but he was always a very supportive teacher. I remember in particular our lunchtime meetings at which most of the team would sit down and discuss and analyse each patient’s care – from all aspects of their treatment – the clinical aspects led by Steptoe and the scientific side led by Edwards – fascinating times and a wonderful way to learn about the management of IVF patients’ treatment.”

Louise Brown remembers Steptoe

Since those early days over 6 million babies born worldwide following treatment by IVF, a medical treatment developed by Steptoe with Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy at Bourn Hall; the clinic they established after their success with Louise Brown and Alastair Macdonald the first IVF babies.

Louise Brown comments: “Patrick Steptoe was like a grandfather to me. My mother, Lesley Brown, always said that she trusted him from the first moment that she met him. Patrick Steptoe died when I was 10 years old so I did not know him well. We last met when we were guests on a TV programme together and he was proud of the children he had helped bring into the world. His legacy will live on as there are now millions of people in the world who owe their existence to the work of the IVF pioneers.”

Patrick Steptoe Father of IVF

Steptoe was a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Oldham Hospital in Lancashire, with a special interest in female infertility and diagnostics techniques, when in 1968 he met with Edwards, a Cambridge geneticist and embryologist. This was shortly before Edwards achieved the first successful growth of a human embryo outside the womb.

Steptoe was an expert in laparoscopy, a forerunner to keyhole surgery, that would allow the collection of mature eggs without abdominal surgery, and he also had a large number of patients that would benefit from IVF if it had been available.  Many of these women agreed to assist with the research by donating eggs.

Working in their spare time, with the assistance of Jean Purdy who was running the laboratory, the three began a difficult and frustrating journey to transfer embryos to the womb and achieve a live birth.  This took a further ten years and succeeded with the birth of Louise Brown.

Peter explains that the birth was one of the greatest scientific achievements. He said; “When Steptoe and Edwards presented the results of their work later in 1978 at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, they received a standing ovation; something which had never occurred before in the whole history of the College. At the American Fertility Society meeting in 1978 they also received a standing ovation at the end of their presentation.

No funding to establish IVF as a treatment

“Such acclaim for their achievements in their work by their peers, however, did not stop continued severe criticism by others, and no funding for further research or treatment was made available to them by any of the Universities, the Medical Research Council, or other bodies. Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards had, therefore, to set up a private IVF clinic at Bourn Hall, close to Cambridge, where Bob was working. Opened in 1980, this became the World’s first specialist IVF clinic.

Steptoe passed away on the 21st March 1988 just after receiving the news that Bourn Hall had achieved its 1,000th IVF baby.

Bob Edwards, in a tribute to Patrick Steptoe’s life at the Royal Society in 1989, ended his talk by saying: “Great charm carried him through many difficult situations, inspired enormous devotion in his staff and patients and no doubt helped to carry him through much of the criticism aimed at him. The consequences of his work have spread everywhere. Laparoscopy has been equally successful as his work on IVF. He was optimistic, good natured, reliable, and a deeply affectionate family man. Popular at Bourn Hall, many staff and patients admired him almost beyond belief. He was unflinchingly loyal to his patients and friends.”

Andrew remembers his father

His son Andrew gave a moving tribute to his father:  “Patrick was first and foremost a doctor intensely concerned about the health of women, and did much work on cervical cancer, pelvic pain, and sterilisations as well as infertility. He worked very hard, doing a five-and-a-half-day week, and generally going into the hospital on Sunday morning as well to see how his patients were getting on.

“His exceptional contributions to medicine and science came through his work with Bob Edwards, each bringing unique skills to the collaboration. But I think much of his commitment came from his upbringing here in Witney, his parents’ strong sense of service, and his mother’s example in helping poorer people in need. So I’m very proud that the town has recognised him in this way.”

And now a second generation of women, like Amy Harris – Norfolk’s first IVF baby, who has just given birth to her own IVF baby, are benefiting from his work.

Patrick Steptoe's Blue Plaque in Witney

Top image shows Peter Brinsden and Professor Andrew Steptoe (son of Patrick) unveiling the plaque, with Cllr Maxine Crossland, Chairman of West Oxfordshire DC, and Cllr Brenda Churchill, Mayor of Witney, watching. Image credit: Mark Churchill.

World’s first ‘frostie’ twin launches new egg bank at Bourn Hall Wickford

Clinic to offer free freezing for egg sharers to increase awareness, access and diversity

The world’s first frozen embryo twin Jamie Facer-Childs met some of Bourn Hall Wickford’s first patients when he came to launch its advanced fertility preservation service on the first day of Spring.

The new egg bank will enable access to a greater diversity of donated eggs and make it easier for women facing surgery – or another life event that will impact their fertility – to freeze their own eggs and keep their chance of having a baby.

Many women who would benefit from egg freezing for medical reasons are not made aware of this option, as Martyn Blayney, Science Director of Bourn Hall, explains. He says: “As Jamie demonstrates we have been able to offer embryo and sperm freezing for several decades, but eggs are more delicate structures and up until now very few ‘frozen egg babies’ are born each year.

As a result, women having treatment which might damage their ovaries such as surgery or cancer therapies are not routinely offered the chance to preserve their fertility through egg freezing.”

Bourn Hall was the world’s first IVF clinic and has developed the techniques and drug regimes that are now used internationally; as a result it has in-depth knowledge of the female endocrine (hormone) system. Cryopreservation requires a fine balancing act, as the hormones used to collect and freeze eggs are those usually suppressed during treatment for breast cancer or ahead of a sex change.

Consultants at Bourn Hall work closely with oncologists and other specialists to ensure fertility preservation does not compromise treatment.

Martyn continues: “Our knowledge of egg development has increased significantly since we established a lab with Dr Melina Schuh of the Max Planck institute, which was the first to 3D image the process of chromosome division in live eggs. This work has shown some of the reasons why egg quality declines in women over 35. As a result, we would not recommend egg freezing to older women.”

To mark the opening of the new facility Bourn Hall is offering free egg freezing to women under 35 who are prepared to share some of their eggs with others.

The clinic hopes that this will also make it easier for women without a life partner to make this proactive decision while their eggs are of good quality, and also increase the diversity and supply of eggs for patients unable to conceive with their own eggs.

Martyn explains: “Egg sharing with fresh eggs means you need to match the donor with the recipient and synchronise the timing of their treatment. Having an egg bank will increase the quantity and diversity of eggs available, enabling patients who need donor eggs to have their treatment at the best time for them. We hope this will also reduce the number of patients having to travel abroad for donor egg treatment.”

Women who need IVF who egg share with Bourn Hall are already offered free IVF treatment. The new service will allow women who don’t currently need treatment, but want to preserve their eggs as an insurance policy, to benefit from free freezing. If they later require IVF treatment the cost will be considerably reduced as they already have some eggs in the bank – a win-win for all involved.

Will Mother’s Day mark another year without a baby?

Already the shops are full of promotions for Mothers’ Day – just part of the constant reminder of what you are missing if you are struggling with infertility in Cambridgeshire.

Unlike residents in Newmarket, Biggleswade or Saffron Walden – where one or more cycles of IVF treatment are available as part of the NHS fertility service – anyone with a GP in the Cambridge & Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) now has to pay for treatment, regardless of their income.

This postcode lottery is considered by many people to be very unfair.

Bourn Hall provides NHS treatment to patients across the rest of the region. It is the world’s first IVF clinic and has 40 years of expertise in providing fertility care.

This knowledge means that it is also able to help patients to boost their natural fertility, and lead clinician Dr Thanos Papathanasiou is concerned that Cambridgeshire residents are not getting the advice they need.

He says: “We are concerned that by removing IVF as an NHS treatment option, patients in Cambridgeshire are now less likely to have their infertility fully investigated.

“This means that people who could benefit from other types of treatment such as medication or specialist fertility advice may not be receiving that support through the NHS.

“For example, we have been told by Cambridge University Hospitals that fifty per cent of the people referred for fertility testing on the NHS have been waiting more than three months for their first appointment. Fertility declines with age so every month is precious.”

“There is now an opportunity to review the way that the fertility service is delivered and to suggest improvements that would offer better outcomes to all patients by creating efficiencies rather than cutting funding.”

The decision to remove funding for IVF treatment is being reviewed by the CCG in May 2019. Campaigners believe that this is an opportunity to present information about the impact of the cuts. Stuart Tuckwood and Ellie Crane launched a petition in 2017 to prevent the cuts, which achieved 4,000 signatures.

Stuart comments: “We now have an opportunity to make the commissioners aware of the impact their decision has had. “We are hopeful that we can convince them to reinstate funding. Recently South Norfolk CCG reintroduced funding for two cycles of IVF treatment in their area, removing the postcode lottery in Norfolk, and we would like to see a similar move here.”

Ellie Crane says the NHS funding that enabled her to have a daughter was ‘life changing’. She remembers: “Like any couple, we were happy and excited but also a little scared at the prospect of starting a family. However, each month brought disappointment and we started worrying that there might be a problem.

“A second year passed. I quit my job, unable to cope with the stress of working on top of this anxiety. Finally, after what seemed like endless tests and consultations, we were told that IVF was our best option and were referred for treatment on the NHS.

“At that point Cambridgeshire NHS offered two rounds of IVF, but while we were waiting for the paperwork to be processed this was cut to one round; we missed the deadline by days.”

Fortunately Ellie’s story has a happy conclusion. “Thanks to the wonderful skill and knowledge of the staff at Bourn Hall – and a little bit of luck! – our one shot paid off and the IVF worked first time. However, there are hundreds of couples out there who are still on this journey and for whom the future is uncertain.”

The East and North Hertfordshire CCG has negotiated a competitive deal with its five IVF suppliers on behalf of the twelve CCGs that serve Herts, Cambs, Beds, Norfolk and Suffolk. Of these only the Cambs and Herts Valley CCGs provide no funding for IVF treatment.

It is estimated that only about 100 couples a year meet the NHS criteria for IVF so removing funding will have had a negligible impact on the CCG, which has a £1.15bn budget – one of the largest in the country.

The financial data presented to the commissioners during the public consultation in 2017 about the amount of saving possible was challenged by a number of parties and subsequently the CCG agreed it was flawed.

Bourn Hall has used its experience to design a survey to capture information about peoples’ fertility journeys. It plans to use this information to propose options that would improve patient outcomes without a significant cost. The survey is to be shared with people that contributed to the 2017 petition and to others via social media.

Additionally, Bourn Hall is holding a Fertility Awareness Evening on 6th March 2019 where people can have an individual mini-consultation with a fertility nurse specialist to talk about their own fertility journey, the options for treatment and alternative ways to fund treatment.

The survey can be found at: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CambsCCGBHC

Details of the Fertility Awareness Evening are on the Bourn Hall website: www.bournhall.co.uk/news-events

Unexplained infertility to be discussed at Fertility Convention

It was a chance conversation with her GP that gave Janene Harwood and her partner Simon the advice and access to the funding they needed to become parents. Simon had always wanted to be a dad but as he was already in his mid-40s he thought he had missed the boat.

There is an opportunity for everyone to find out more about the causes of infertility from experts at a Fertility Convention hosted by Bourn Hall Clinic at Orsett Hall on 2nd February.

Janene explains that she was in her early 30s when the couple from Southend got together: “We were both conscious that age was not on our side,” says Janene, “but we had no reason to think there would be any problems conceiving. I had just always assumed that I might get pregnant the first time.”

An unexpected conversation with her GP forced Janene to face an uncomfortable truth: she and Simon might need medical intervention to help them conceive.

“It was my doctor who brought up the subject of fertility, as my appointment was for an unrelated matter,” reveals Janene. “When I told her that we had been trying for a baby she offered to send us for tests because of my age. I was 38 and if we needed IVF treatment a referral would have to be made before I was 40 for us to be eligible for NHS-funded treatment.”

Common causes of infertility

Although age is a common cause of infertility – egg quality and quantity decline quickly after the age of 35 – there are other reasons such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – which causes irregular release of eggs – and, in men, a low sperm count. The quality and quantity of man’s sperm can vary markedly from one month to the next. These are two of the issues to be discussed by experts at the convention.

Janene and Simon were referred for fertility testing to diagnose the reason they were struggling to conceive. Hospital tests were inconclusive so the couple were referred for IVF, and they chose to go Bourn Hall Clinic for treatment and further tests. “I had a tubal patency test and that all came back fine,” Janene says. “Simon’s sperm was mostly fine.”

Unexplained infertility

Unexplained infertility, where the reason is not clear and might be caused by sub-fertility on both sides, is also common and is frustrating for patients. “We were advised that IVF with ICSI would be a good treatment for us because they could pick out the best sperm under a microscope and inject them directly into my eggs in the lab,” says Janene.

The treatment at Bourn Hall worked first time and the couple became parents to Noah, who celebrated his first birthday a few weeks ago.

Essex is a ‘postcode lottery’ for NHS funded IVF as each Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) can decide for itself the level of funding.

Only Thurrock provides the three cycles of treatment recommended by NICE as providing the optimum level of care to maximise the chance of pregnancy. With this level of treatment 8 out of 10 patients have a baby following NHS IVF treatment at Bourn Hall. Basildon and Brentwood, Mid Essex and North East Essex provide no funding; Southend and West Essex offer one cycle; and Castle Point and Rochford provide two cycles of treatment.

Advice about reasons for infertility, boosting your natural fertility, fertility testing, treatment options, funding and financing treatment are all to be discussed at the Fertility Convention, which includes a free personal consultation.

Event: Fertility Convention, Orsett Hall, Thurrock at 1.30 on Saturday 2nd February 2019

Find out more about common causes of infertility, testing and treatment. Opportunity to hear presentations by fertility experts, gain advice from complementary therapists and have a free consultation.

Talks include:

  • Overcoming Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): how it impacts fertility and ways to boost your chances of conception – Dr Arpita Ray, Lead Clinician, Bourn Hall
  • Male infertility – common causes and life-changing treatments – Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO, Bourn Hall
  • The mystery of unexplained infertility and how lifestyle changes can help – Dr Jitu Jadhav, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.

More information and registration: www.bournhall.co.uk/news-events/

Essex mums get together for their annual Christmas ‘sofa selfie’

Three former colleagues who became life-long friends after all having fertility treatment at Bourn Hall’s Colchester Clinic have a very special Christmas tradition that they never miss.

Although Vicky, Carly and Nikki, who now have four children between them catch up regularly throughout the year, they always meet up just before Christmas for an annual festive photo of them with their children together on the sofa.

The three friends each gave birth to a son in the same year following IVF treatment at Bourn Hall: Vicki had son William, Nikki had son Nathan and Carly had son Rhys.

The three women first met whilst working at the Halifax bank – at one point working at the same branch – Vicki and Carly as Managers and Nikki as a Mortgage Advisor – and discovered that coincidentally they were each having problems conceiving. During their treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic they were able to provide an invaluable support network for each other during their journeys through IVF and became great friends.

A few months after William was born Vicki and husband Mark then got the shock of their lives when they discovered that Vicki had got pregnant naturally – with an unexpected ‘little extra’. They welcomed daughter Evelyn the following year: “Both of our children are miracles,” says Vicki.

Every year Evelyn now joins big brother William and mum Vicki on the Christmas sofa with Nikki, Nathan, Carly and Rhys.

“It was fantastic for us to have other people close who understood exactly what we were going through; it has brought us closer together,” says Vicki.

Read their stories here.

ESSEX MUMS GET TOGETHER FOR THEIR ANNUAL CHRISTMAS ‘SOFA SELFIE’

2018

Essex Friends 2016

2017

Essex friends 2017

2016

Essex Friends 2015

2015

Helping women produce more eggs – presentations at Fertility 2019

Why do some women produce very few eggs during IVF treatment? This is a question of great concern to Bourn Hall regional lead clinician Dr Thanos Papathanasiou. He has been researching our extensive patient data to look at ways to improve treatment for ‘poor responders’ and will be presenting his findings in an oral presentation and poster at Fertility2019.

Dr Papathanasiou comments that this type of research is important, as it will help advise clinicians so they can adjust the treatment appropriately ahead of subsequent IVF cycles. It also helps them to support patients and manage their expectations.

Natural egg production

In a natural cycle just one mature egg is released every month during ovulation. For IVF treatment medication is used to stimulate egg production so more eggs are available for fertilisation. The immature eggs are stored within ovarian follicles, which provide the environment and hormones needed for the egg to mature.

It takes three months of growth and development before the egg is ready to be released. Each month a number of follicles get ready for this big moment, but only one will become dominant and release a mature egg during ovulation. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever produce and these are released over her reproductive life, until eventually, no viable eggs remain and a woman experiences the menopause.

Stimulating egg production

IVF treatment the body is encouraged to produce more mature eggs at the same time. This is achieved with a medication that emulates the naturally occurring follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Some women have a good response to this drug and produce lots of eggs for use in IVF treatment. But unfortunately there is a small group that don’t.

This is of great concern to Dr Papathanasiou (pictured above with Sully the 500th baby born following treatment at our Norwich clinic and his parents). He has been reviewing years of our patient data to look for insights that might help Bourn Hall improve the treatment for this group of patients.

He says: “We are in a unique situation at Bourn Hall as we have 40 years of patient data to investigate and so we believe that our research can make a real difference to couples or individuals who require assisted conception in order to have a baby. “Sharing our findings with others at Fertility2019 is an important part of this journey. ”

In addition to this oral presentation “The risk of ‘de novo’ poor ovarian response during repeat IVF: Results of an externally validated prediction model based on more than 4,000 women” he will also be presenting a poster entitled “There is significant unexplained inter-cycle variation in ovarian performance during IVF treatment”.

Research at Bourn Hall aimed at improving success rates for poor responders.

Trying for a baby? Twice a week should do it!

Having sex twice a week is enough to get 80% of couples pregnant within a year. “Many couples are unaware of this and are too embarrassed to seek the support that could help them in trying for a baby,” says fertility expert Dr Thanos Papathanasiou this Fertility Awareness Week (29 October – 4 November), in a bid to dispel myths and misinformation.

Dr Papathanasiou, lead clinician at Bourn Hall, is urging people not to delay getting specialist fertility advice if they have concerns. Simple interventions such as medication, nutritional supplements or weight loss could help them to become pregnant.

He explains: “Some sources recommend that couples should focus their sex-life around ovulation time, while others say having sex twice a night will work! No wonder people are confused about what to do.

NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) defines regular sex as twice a week and recommends that if you don’t get pregnant within one year you should be referred for investigation. However, we know that two-thirds of couples delay asking for advice in the hope that ‘it will happen’, unaware that younger people respond better to simple interventions.

“This is worrying as despite changing times, female fertility still declines after the age of 35 – so there is no time to waste.”

In some cases, Dr Papathanasiou says, six months of trying might be enough to consider next-steps. “Women over 35 for example, and where there are symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or other pre-existing health issues, should get help sooner. Likewise, where men have had complications from mumps or a sporting injury which may affect their reproductive organs, they should seek a fertility assessment sooner rather than later.”

Only a minority of patients require IVF, but this is the best treatment when other options have been eliminated.

Unfortunately, in some parts of the country lack of NHS funding for IVF has meant that the causes of infertility are not being investigated in a timely manner.

Dr Papathanasiou says he and his colleagues are deeply concerned about this: “NHS cuts for IVF mean that timely referrals and fertility investigations have also become a post-code lottery. The hidden impact of devaluing fertility treatment in some areas is that patients can face months of waiting for testing that could reveal blocked tubes, endometriosis, a low sperm count or other underlying conditions that compromise the chances of natural conception.

“This means that some couples are continuing to try naturally for babies unaware of these issues and lack the information that would allow them to make informed choices about treatment.”

Symptoms that you have sub infertility may include:

  • Absent periods, or infrequent periods with excessively heavy or light bleeding, which could be a sign of ovulatory disorders
  • Irregular menstrual periods, excessive hair growth, acne and weight gain might indicate PCOS
  • Painful periods, pain during sex, chronic pelvic pain, painful bowel motions or urination during menstruation, which could be a sign of Endometriosis
  • Operation for undescended testes, injury to testes or family history of cystic fibrosis might indicate a low or zero sperm count

To help people who are trying to start a family gain access to early advice, Bourn Hall is offering free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist and half-price fertility health + wellbeing tests.

During Fertility Week Bourn Hall is also holding free Fertility Fayres – the next Fertility Fayre will be at its Cambridge Clinic on Saturday, 3 November.

Senior Infertility Nurses Group appoints Bourn Hall nurse to Board

Laura Carter-Penman, regional lead fertility nurse from Bourn Hall Cambridge, the world’s first IVF clinic, has been appointed to the Executive Board of national nursing organisation the Senior Infertility Nurses Group (SING).

Laura who took up her position on the SING Board earlier this year, qualified as a nurse at the University of East Anglia just over 20 years ago. Starting out her career as a NHS nurse, in 2011 Laura applied to become a fertility nurse at Bourn Hall Clinic and has worked her way up to the position of regional lead nurse.

SING is the largest group for infertility nurses and health care assistants to share advice, best practice and receive training to support annual requirements, with members from over half of the UK and Ireland’s fertility clinics. The body is well recognised in the fertility nursing community, often consulting and contributing to the development of Government policy and other nursing organisations’ boards.

Laura, who will be undertaking her SING duties in addition to her role at Bourn Hall, said: “For me, nursing is about educating the team around you, which is why I think SING is a fantastic organisation – providing support and information sharing for hundreds of nurses up and down the country.

“My role at Bourn Hall has offered me the perfect opportunity to expand my skills, helping me step into this role to help others. The connections that SING provides help you to get a bigger perspective than just your own place of work.”

Debbie Evans, SING’s Chair, said: “I am delighted to welcome Laura to the Executive Board, and the experience she brings. At SING, we are instrumental in shaping the future of fertility and passionate that nursing has a huge stake hold in that future.”

Laura oversees teams of 30 nurses and health care assistants in Bourn Hall’s Cambridge and Norwich clinics. As SING Secretary, she will now be organising a series of training events, helping provide information networks, peer support and guidance to fertility nurses across the UK and Ireland. Previous events have included talks delivered by the Chief Inspector of Government regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA).

SING is available to all UK and Republic of Ireland fertility nurses and health care assistants, facilitating support at every level.

Bourn Hall supports Fertility Awareness Week 2018 with two Fertility Fayres

Many people are surprised when they don’t get pregnant immediately they start trying for a baby but others may already have concerns they might have problems conceiving.

Fertility Awareness Week 2018 is an opportunity for people at every stage of their journey to parenthood to get the advice they need.  To support this in a practical and accessible way Bourn Hall is hosting two Fertility Fayres during this week –  one at Wickford on Saturday 27th October and the other at Cambridge on Saturday 3rd November.

These events are aimed at people wanting to know more about how to get themselves fertility fit and give themselves the best chance of getting pregnant. There will be a range of wellbeing advice on offer as well as medical advice on aspects of fertility and treatment.

Bourn Hall is also supporting World Fertility Day on 2 November helping to increase awareness and support those affected by infertility.

Informal environment

Laura Carter-Penman is the Regional Lead Nurse at Bourn Hall, she says people can feel awkward about asking advice but often feel more at ease in the informal environment of a fayre.

“The idea is that we will have a number of stalls from different organisations offering fertility wellbeing services such as nutritional supplements, reflexology and acupuncture and also have our own fertility specialists available.

“This means people can interact as much or as little as they want and get the information that is right for them all under one roof.”

At a recent Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group meeting all the participants said they had tried complementary therapies either before or during IVF treatment to help them to cope with stress.

This has prompted Bourn Hall to forge closer links with therapists that have been well reviewed by their patients.

Support for the journey

Bourn Hall’s new Wickford Clinic has been designed as a ‘fertility centre’ with several consulting rooms used by visiting complementary therapists to meet this growing demand.

Laura continues: “There are many causes for infertility and in some cases natural fertility can be restored through lifestyle changes such as changes to diet and weight loss. Although it is not thought that stress alone causes infertility, there is significant evidence that struggling with infertility impacts your mental health and relationships. Many of our patients report that yoga and relaxation techniques are useful for helping them to cope with stress.”

Events in Fertility Awareness Week 2018

It is entirely free of charge to attend the fertility fayres and you do not need to register – just turn up on the day to whichever clinic/date is most convenient for you.

There will also be representatives of our fertility support group and information on alternative ways of funding any treatment you might need.  Our egg donation experts will also be on hand to discuss donor treatments or how you can access free IVF treatment through our egg sharing programme.

Special offer

Bourn Hall is also offering attendees half price Fertility Health +Wellbeing checks – these include a suite of tests and a consultation with a fertility specialist doctor that can provide information about reasons for infertility within a few weeks. More information about this special offer can be found on our blog.

 

For more information visit the events pages of our website.

Louise Brown honours Jean Purdy, the ‘forgotten’ female IVF pioneer

Louise Brown today laid flowers on a new memorial to Jean Purdy, embryologist, IVF pioneer and co-founder of Bourn Hall.

Jean Marian Purdy is almost forgotten as one of the British trio that introduced clinical IVF to the world. Working alongside physiologist Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, Jean became the world’s first embryologist for the first-ever ‘test tube’ baby – Louise Brown, who turns 40 on 25 July this year.

Before her premature death in 1985, aged 39, Jean supported IVF treatment that resulted in over 500 babies at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, where, as Technical Director, she helped turn the science into a robust medical treatment.

Her great contribution to medicine has at last been recognised with a memorial service and blessing of a new headstone in the presence of Jean’s family, friends and colleagues.

Louise laid flowers on behalf of all those who have benefited from Jean’s work.

Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall
Robert Edwards, Jean Purdy and Patrick Steptoe at Bourn Hall in 1981, the year after it opened

Jean was co-author on 26 academic papers about IVF between 1970-1985 including Nature and The Lancet and her contribution was recognised by fellow IVF pioneers Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. At a lecture to an audience of specialists on the 20th anniversary of clinical IVF, Edwards announced, ‘There were three original pioneers in IVF not just two.’

The memorial was funded by Bourn Hall Clinic, the Association of Clinical Embryologists and the British Fertility Society along with private donations. It is located in Grantchester churchyard, where Jean and her mother are buried.

Dr Thomas Mathews was trained by Patrick Steptoe and was a colleague of Jean Purdy; he later returned to Bourn Hall to become Medical Director and has seen first-hand the impact of her work. He said: “I had the pleasure of working with Jean a couple of years after the opening of Bourn Hall. For me her greatest legacy is a living one: over 20,000 babies have been born following IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, bringing great joy to their families and friends. 

“On behalf of these families and my colleagues I would be like to express my heartfelt appreciation for Jean Purdy and all she worked so hard to achieve. Thank you Jean.”

New Bourn Hall Wickford fertility clinic opens its doors

Wickford is home to one of the UK’s most advanced patient-centred fertility clinics

Bourn Hall Wickford is now open for appointments with self-funded and NHS patients. This achievement was celebrated with an event to show health professionals behind the scenes.

“It is so exciting to be part of something totally new,” says Grace Phiri, Fertility Nurse Specialist. “To work with such a committed team and to be involved with the clinic from scratch has been such a fantastic experience and it has been amazing seeing the first patients coming in through the door.”

The hi-tech clinic took just over a year to construct and is designed with the benefit of over 40 years of expertise in fertility care. Bourn Hall Cambridge was the world’s first ever IVF clinic, established by the pioneers Steptoe and Edwards after their success with the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown. The new clinic offers a new approach and brings together fertility specialists, counsellors and complementary therapists all under one roof with the aim of helping ‘the whole person’ at every stage of their fertility journey.

The emphasis on fertility health and wellbeing is at the heart of the patient experience at the new clinic, which, combined with personalised fertility treatments, aims to maximise success rates for patients.

Last week local health practitioners interested in finding out more about the work of a fertility clinic were invited in for a celebratory evening reception and guided tours – and the feedback was extremely positive.

“One in six couples struggle with infertility,” explains Sarah Pallett, Bourn Hall’s Business Development Director, “and often the first person they discuss their issues with is their local GP or practice nurse. We are keen to encourage a deeper understanding amongst local health practitioners of the main causes of infertility and what options are open to people who are worried they have a fertility issue.

“Only a small number of people actually need IVF and there are many practical steps which people can take to boost their natural fertility. We hope to raise awareness so that there is a more joined-up approach to the advice which people receive to ensure they have all the information they need to take steps to improve their chances of having a family. The health practitioners who came along to our open evening found it really enlightening.

“We are also really excited to have a number of complementary therapists working alongside our clinicians. This holistic approach ensures that both the emotional and physical needs of the patient are at the core of everything and we are confident it will enhance even further the experience our patients have with us. We are pioneering this at the Bourn Hall Wickford clinic and aim to roll it out to our other clinics in due course.”

Fertility event at Bourn Hall Wickford

There will be an opportunity for anyone concerned about their fertility to find out more on 14th July when Bourn Hall will host a free fertility event, including mini consultations with a fertility nurse specialist, at the clinic: Bourn Hall Wickford, 25 London Road, Wickford SS12 OAW. For more information go to https://www.bournhall.co.uk/news-events/free-consultations-at-our-fertility-event-in-wickford

We have included some photos from the health professionals event on our Fertility Blog here.

Fertility Fest – ‘A life in Glass’

Dr Kay Elder is to talk at Fertility Fest – in 1984 she joined Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, established by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards after their breakthrough with ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown. By 1986, 2000 IVF babies had been born worldwide, 1000 of these as a result of treatment at Bourn Hall¹. Kay managed the transition of IVF from in-patient to out-patient treatment cycles and became Head of the Outpatient Department. 

She is discussing her experiences at Fertility Fest on 11 May 2018.  She is sharing the stage with artist Gina Glover (who has created a series artwork capturing a ‘Life in Glass’, based on the work of scientists and health professionals at Bourn Hall) along with Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA (the UK regulator of fertility treatment) and Dr Roy Farquharson, Chair of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), at ’40 Years of IVF ‘at 10am on Friday 11th May as part of Fertility Fest’s week-long event (8-11 May).

Dr Kay Elder, Senior Research Scientist at Bourn Hall, to talk at Fertility Fest

Fertility Fest Kay Elder
Dr Kay Elder, Senior Research Scientist at Bourn Hall

Dr Kay Elder came to work for Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards at Bourn Hall purely by chance. Her introduction to IVF arrived via a telephone call in 1984, when Bourn Hall telephoned Cambridge University Clinical School to ask if they could recommend a locum doctor.

The world’s first IVF clinic was established after the team’s breakthrough with ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown, who celebrates her 40th birthday this summer. For ten years Steptoe, Edwards and Jean Purdy worked tirelessly to achieve the successful pregnancy and birth of the world’s first IVF baby. Between the team’s early achievements of fertilising a human egg outside the body and nurturing it to the 8 cell or blastocyst stage (1969-70) – and Louise’s birth in 1978, there had been over a hundred failed treatment cycles and dashed hopes.

With the birth of Louise and then Alastair MacDonald, the first IVF baby boy, the trio assumed that the struggle was over. However, the research granting agencies were still sceptical and reluctant to help them open a clinic where the technique could be refined. It took the team two years to raise the venture capital that made it possible for them to open a clinic in 1980, in the village of Bourn on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Fertility Fest
Louise Brown and the 1,000th baby born as a result of IVF treatment at Bourn Hall

By 1986, 1000 IVF babies had been born as a result of treatment at Bourn Hall.

Kay is a research scientist – her work on the molecular biology of oncogenic viruses was published as a leading article in Nature in 1973. Intrigued by a wider context of the science behind clinical disease, she gained a scholarship from the Foulkes Foundation to study medicine at University of Cambridge, intending to return to clinical oncology research. However, the duties of a newly qualified doctor were incompatible with raising her two young children, and she was taking a career break when the call from Bourn Hall came.

At Bourn Hall Kay recognized that IVF represents a significant and important collaboration between science and medicine and was fascinated by its scientific potential. Steptoe tailored a part-time clinical position for her, which became full-time as her children grew.

The introduction of ultrasound scanning and more refined drug protocols simplified IVF treatment cycles, and Kay managed the transition from in-patient to out-patient treatment as Head of the Outpatient Department. IVF was gradually transformed into a robust medical treatment, and gynaecologists and cell biologists from all over the world came to learn about this exciting field of medicine.

Teaching the first generation of medics

Kay worked with Professor Edwards to establish a programme of workshops and seminars at Bourn Hall; with her medical and scientific experience of IVF, she taught a new generation of health professionals, many of whom now head up fertility clinics internationally.

Later collaborations with Universities led to the establishment of post-graduate MSc degree courses in clinical embryology; she has published several textbooks for students of assisted reproductive technology, as well as numerous peer-reviewed papers about the science of ART and the early development of oocytes and embryos.

Fertility Fest Life in Glass
Gina Glover explaining her work to staff at Bourn Hall

Kay continues to teach and mentor students and combines this with her role as Senior Research Scientist at Bourn Hall, managing the research embryo bank and monitoring results and data.

She will discuss her experiences at Fertility Fest on 11 May 2018, sharing the stage with artist Gina Glover, who has created a series of artwork capturing a ‘Life in Glass’, based on the work of scientists and health professionals at Bourn Hall. The image at the top of this page is one of her works – see the full version here.

Fertility Fest 

Kay and Gina will be joining Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA (the UK regulator of fertility treatment) and Dr Roy Farquharson, Chair of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), at  ’40 Years of IVF’ at 10am on Friday 11th May as part of Fertility Fest’s week-long (8-11 May) programme of events, discussion, debate, support and solidarity at the Bush Theatre.

For more information, visit www.fertilityfest.com

Cheltenham Science Festival 

This year’s Cheltenham Science Festival (June 5th -10th 2018) also features a session about ‘The Birth of IVF’ on Thursday June 7th, 4.45 pm. Kay Elder will participate in a panel discussion with BFS chair Jane Stewart and Progress Educational Trust Director Sarah Norcross, chaired by Professor Alan Pacey: www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/science

¹Peter Brinsden “30 Years of IVF: the legacy of Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards”

Bourn Hall Wickford to pioneer new approach to fertility and wellbeing

One in six couples struggle with infertility but many miss out on the timely advice, a new approach to fertility treatment in Essex will bring them closer to starting a family.

Bourn Hall has 40 years of expertise in making babies and has chosen Wickford to be the home of a new purpose-built fertility centre offering a fresh approach to fertility wellbeing and treatment. The new clinic is near the station and set to open in May.

 

Sarah Pallett, Bourn Hall’s Business Development Director, was delighted to be handed the keys to the three-storey building by Paul Stacey, Managing Director of The Healthcare Property Company (HPC), an innovative developer of healthcare premises.

Sarah comments that many can be helped with good advice from a specialist: “Our concern is that people often go into denial about their fertility problems and put off getting advice through embarrassment.

“We want this to be a place where people feel they can come at any stage of their fertility journey, whether they have only just started trying for a family, want advice on boosting their natural fertility or have been trying for some time and are concerned that they may have a fertility issue.”

Bourn Hall Wickford Station advert

Designed to promote a feeling of wellbeing 

The new clinic has been designed to feel more like a boutique spa than a clinical hospital environment to encourage people to seek treatment earlier when issues are easier to resolve. It will provide a full suite of fertility services, from initial fertility testing right through to IVF treatment (NHS or self-funded).

Free IVF treatment is available for those who meet the criteria for donating or sharing eggs and sperm.

A unique feature of the centre is a ‘fertility wellbeing hub’. Bourn Hall is increasingly aware that improving nutrition, fitness and reducing stress can help patients improve their fertility and cope with the emotional roller coaster of treatment. It has created a space of complementary therapists to practice.

Fertility treatment in Essex

This is the first time that Bourn Hall Clinic has commissioned a new-build and the design is inspired by nearly 40 years of experience in delivering high quality fertility care. Designed by brp architects, the project was managed by The Healthcare Property Company (HPC), an experienced developer of healthcare premises based in Maldon, with building work undertaken by Southend-on-Sea construction company AW Hardy.

Bourn Hall Clinic Wickford signThe new purpose-built clinic at Wickford will have the capacity for 1,000 IVF cycles a year. It is built to the highest environmental specifications, incorporating the latest building technologies to reduce noise and vibrations from traffic to create a calm interior.

Paul Stacey of HPC says: “Every detail has been considered to promote successful treatment while creating an aesthetically pleasing environment for patients and staff.” Bourn Hall was the world’s first IVF clinic and Wickford will provide a complete IVF service under one roof including egg collection and embryo transfer. The clinic has been designed to provide a reassuring environment with easy transport links and free onsite parking. This will enable patients to attend appointments and return home without struggling through London public transport or traffic.

Sarah comments that Wickford is an ideal place to offer the full range of fertility services, as it is easily accessible to people from South Hertfordshire and North London as well as Essex.

 “We will offer flexible early morning, evening and weekend appointments to help patients fit treatment around work and other commitments.”

To encourage people to seek advice and to celebrate the clinic opening in May 2018 Bourn Hall is offering a free consultation with a fertility nurse specialist.

There is also an opportunity for health professionals to have a tour of the building and meet staff on the evening of 17th May.

IVF baby starts school and makes Mother’s Day

This year four-year-old Alex will be able to write his first Mother’s Day card, making it extra special for his mum Victoria, who had IVF success after endometriosis.

Alex on his first day of school

Many causes of infertility have no symptoms; Victoria’s infertility was caused by a condition called endometriosis, which was only uncovered when she had to have emergency surgery to remove a large cyst on her ovary.

Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial tissue (the lining of the uterus that sheds with each monthly period) grows outside the womb. It affects around one in ten women in the UK and it is estimated that up to 50 per cent of infertile women have the condition.

Endometriosis UK says that a diagnosis can take an average of 7.5 years, and the charity is running an awareness week from 3-11 March to highlight the condition.

Victoria and her husband Neal had already been trying to conceive for two years with no success when Victoria had her emergency surgery to remove the cyst – so her endometriosis diagnosis was a blow.

“I always had painful, heavy periods and just thought it was normal,” says Victoria, “until I discovered it was due to endometriosis and bits of my womb lining were growing outside my womb.

“At this point we thought the odds were stacked against us ever having a child,” she admits.

“Our consultant told us we could try IVF, which at that time was available on the NHS, and we chose to be treated at Bourn Hall in Colchester as it was only half an hour down the road.”

IVF success after endometriosis

Victoria, Neal and AlexThe couple were treated at Bourn Hall Clinic using a procedure called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), where a single sperm is injected into an egg to fertilise it. Two weeks later Victoria discovered she was pregnant.

Alexander was born at Colchester General Hospital in August 2013 after a very quick labour of an hour and a half.

Four years later Victoria still has to pinch herself that she is a mum and says that everything she and Neal went through was worth it to have Alex in their lives. “Being parents means everything to us,” she smiles. “Alex’s first day at school was definitely a milestone reached and seeing him in his first school Christmas play was pretty special. His rendition of ‘Away in a Manger’ complete with actions was magical!”

According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority over 90 per cent of couples conceive naturally within two years. If you haven’t conceived within a year however, or you know you have a condition which affects your fertility, you should seek expert advice.

Only a small number of people require IVF and there are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted, and other assisted conception treatments are an option.

As well as its clinic in Colchester, Bourn Hall is opening a brand-new purpose-built fertility and IVF centre in Wickford town centre. The new centre opens later this month, and will provide a full range of fertility treatments on-site as well as a range of wellbeing services aimed at helping women and couples improve their chances of becoming pregnant naturally.

Victoria is especially looking forward to Mother’s Day this year: “I know that, after all the writing practice he has done at school, Alex will have written my card all by himself,” she laughs.

For more information about endometriosis.

About EndometriosisUK

Free mini-consultation with fertility nurse specialist.

Alex in the snow
Alex enjoys the snow

CS146

Embryo screening may help to overcome recurrent miscarriage

Bourn Hall Clinic is introducing a new service called Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS)  or embryo screening that can detect chromosome abnormalities and help the embryologist select the embryo that is most likely to thrive.

Embryo screening

There are many reasons for recurrent miscarriage, but a common cause is thought to be that the embryo has the wrong number of chromosomes, preventing it from developing correctly and the pregnancy is lost.

Martyn Blayney, Science Director for Bourn Hall explains the problem: “Embryos that have too few or too many chromosomes are known as aneuploid. The risk of this increases with age, but it may also be the result of smoking or other environmental factors.

“We want to select the embryo with the greatest chance of success so PGS may be advised for some patients, particularly those who have experienced: recurrent miscarriage following a natural or IVF conception; repeated implantation failure or where the woman is over 35 and her egg quality is poor.”

Select best embryos

Bourn Hall has teamed up with CooperGenomics, a global leader in reproductive genetics, to be one of only a handful of clinics in the UK to offer its patients the new genetic test that will allow embryo screening for chromosome irregularities.

Blayney continues: “The test takes place within the IVF cycle. The eggs are fertilised with sperm as normal and then the embryos grown for about five days in the incubator. At this stage the embryo will have reached blastocyst stage and the cells will have differentiated and some will become the fetus and others the placenta. “

A few of the cells, that would otherwise have become part of the placenta, are removed for testing in the CooperGenomics laboratory and in the meantime all the embryos are frozen.

“The results are sent back to the embryologist at Bourn Hall and the normal embryos identified for subsequent transfer in a frozen embryo transfer cycle.”

Blayney continues, “The scientific and medical evidence supporting the use of PGS is encouraging, but more robust clinical and laboratory trials are needed to assess whether or not PGS significantly increases live birth rates.”

Don’t wait 2 years for NHS referral 

This new test is part of a continuing programme of investment by Bourn Hall Clinic to improve its range of fertility services aimed at getting more people pregnant sooner. Fertility declines with age and now that IVF treatment is no longer available on the NHS in Cambridgeshire there is no benefit in waiting for 2-3 years to be referred for testing and diagnosis.

Bourn Hall provides a fertility health + wellbeing service which is available immediately and provides a comprehensive assessment of any issues within 6 weeks; compared to an average of 18 months at the local hospital.

This means that treatment can start years earlier when the chances of pregnancy are much greater.

This is whether patients are boosting their natural fertility with lifestyle changes, a programme of ovulation drugs or fertility treatment such as IVF as appropriate to their diagnosis.

Choose experience 

Many people are not aware that the cost of fertility treatments, including IVF, is similar between Cambridge IVF clinics, and that Bourn Hall offers the benefit of 40 years of experience, with over 17,000 live births and continual investment into new technology – such as PGS which can help more people achieve their dreams of parenthood.

Bourn Hall is hosting a free fertility awareness evening at 6 pm on Wednesday 7th February at its Cambridge Clinic to allow individuals and couples to explore the options available to them.

More information: www.bournhall.co.uk/news-events

Some good news for the New Year

There is unexpected good news for some Cambridge and Peterborough patients who need NHS funded IVF treatment. Bourn Hall has gained clarification from the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that those referred by their GP for fertility testing (not just IVF) before 6th September 2017 may still be eligible for one cycle of treatment.

“We think this new information might be good news for about 40 couples that had started fertility investigations but had not yet been referred for IVF before the cut-off,” says Rebecca Ward, Lead Patient Service Administrator for Bourn Hall Clinic.

Since the CCG announced that it was cutting all funding for IVF on the 6th September 2017, Rebecca has had the difficult job of explaining to young Cambridgeshire couples that unless they were able to self-fund they would not be able to access treatment. She hopes that some of these people will get back in contact as it has emerged that there has been confusion about eligibility.

She says: “We were informed by the Cambridge and Peterborough CCG, following the consultation decision on 5th September, that only patients referred by their hospital for IVF would retain funding.

“However, at our Fertility Fayre in November we were talking to people who were struggling with infertility and realised that some had been given different information about the availability of funding.

“Some of the couples said they had been told they could still get funding. So we asked the CCG to confirm the situation and were given some surprising news.”

The Associate Director of Contracts for the Cambridge and Peterborough CCG has clarified in a letter to Bourn Hall on 24th November 2017:

Patients referred by their GP for fertility testing before 6th September 2017 are subject to the conditions that were in place at the time of referral.

As such if it is identified that they require IVF and meet the eligibility criteria of the suspended Assisted Conception policy they continue to be eligible for 1 cycle of IVF (1 fresh and 1 frozen implant).

This means that some patients who are still going through testing or treatment at their NHS hospital with drugs such as clomid may still have a chance to gain an NHS funded cycle of IVF at Bourn Hall; if it is decided that it is an appropriate treatment for them and they meet the eligibility criteria.

Rebecca continues: “Before the funding was cut on 6th September we would get about 7-10 enquiries a month from people choosing to come to Bourn Hall for NHS IVF treatment. So we estimate there must be about 40 couples who would still be eligible for treatment.”

Bourn Hall recommends that patients contact their GP to discuss their options but warns that the 104 GPs in the Cambridge and Peterborough CCG area may also be unaware that some of their patients may still be eligible for funding.

As the information they received in ‘GP News’ on 8th September was the same as the news announcement, which stated that only patients that had already been referred for IVF before the 6th September would be funded

Rebecca is urging couples that think they may meet the criteria to get in touch.

“We think that only a quarter of those who would previously been funded are coming forward for treatment, suggesting that many have given up on their hope of having children. Now the situation is clearer we might be able to help these couples.”

To talk to Rebecca please call 01954 717210 or use the contact form on the website.

New lab at Bourn Hall Clinic uses 3D imaging to reveal why eggs fail

Eggs that fail to mature and develop correctly are a common cause of miscarriage and infertility in older women. The reasons behind this are not clear, and are now being investigated in a new research laboratory at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge – the first laboratory in Europe to use a new light sheet microscope that can take images of live, developing human eggs1.

Martyn Blayney, Head of Science at Bourn Hall, says: “Miscarriage is heart-breaking at any age and women in their late thirties and older have less chance to have a successful pregnancy. Research that helps explain how the processes work will allow us to develop and improve tools and techniques for helping these women conceive.”

Dr Melina Schuh, a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, has established the lab at Bourn Hall to continue work she began in 2012 at The Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in Cambridge. The results of the initial research were published in 20152 and 20163, in papers co-authored by Martyn Blayney and Dr Kay Elder of Bourn Hall.

Dr Melina Schuh
Dr Melina Schuh

A woman’s ovaries contain eggs in ‘suspended animation’ from birth onwards, and therefore some eggs are more than 40 years old when they are released during the menstrual cycle. As women age, their eggs accumulate damage associated with a risk of infertility, miscarriage and congenital syndromes, such as Down’s Syndrome.

The reasons why this happens are unclear; Dr Schuh explains how research has provided new insights into some of the mechanisms that may lead to problems:

“We have established techniques that now allow us, for the first time, to follow live human eggs as they develop, and to investigate what causes the decline in egg quality as women age.”

Dr Schuh appointed Bianka Seres, a senior PhD student and embryologist, to set up the lab and continue the work at Bourn Hall.

Bianka Seres with the lightsheet system at Bourn Hall Clinic
Bianka Seres with the lightsheet system at Bourn Hall Clinic

Human eggs are highly sensitive to light, and one of the biggest challenges of live imaging for long periods is to reduce the amount of light exposure. Bianka, now based at Bourn Hall, is optimising a new technique called light sheet microscopy1.

This technology allows the sensitive samples and rapid biological processes to be examined with minimal exposure to light: a ‘sheet’ of light illuminates one single plane of the sample at a time, and the images are built up to create a 3-D reconstruction of the egg. The process is fast enough to capture changes in real time, yielding an animation that reveals biological processes within a cell in very high detail.

Eggs and sperm develop through a specialised cell division called meiosis, during which chromosomes are pulled apart by a cellular structure known as the ‘spindle’. Each egg and sperm cell then contains one-half of the chromosomes required for an embryo.

Dr Schuh’s research revealed key mechanisms that lie behind the relatively frequent abnormalities found in human eggs: the team demonstrated that the spindle structure pulling the chromosomes apart is much more fragile in human eggs than in other species. The fragile spindle cannot capture the chromosomes with high precision, and this can result in errors when the chromosomes separate. They also observed that chromosomes in eggs from older women have a tendency to disintegrate and separate too early, so that they are released during ovulation with an incorrect number of chromosomes (aneuploidy).

If these eggs are fertilized, the resulting embryos will also have an incorrect number of chromosomes; severe chromosomal errors will either prevent implantation or cause early miscarriage. This is one of the reasons why it is more difficult for women to conceive as they get older.

Live human oocyte labelled for chromosomes in magenta and the spindle microtubules in green

Bourn Hall Clinic was co-founded by IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards in 1980 and has a long-standing history of research into reproduction. Dr. Kay Elder, who is a Senior Research Scientist at Bourn Hall and worked closely with Prof. Edwards for many years, says: “This is a fulfilment of Bob’s hopes and dreams when he co-founded the clinic; setting up a research lab with state-of-the-art technology was always a part of his vision.”

The new lab, a satellite to Dr. Schuh’s Department of Meiosis at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, is funded by the Max Planck Society, together with funds from the prestigious Lister Research Prize, which she was awarded in 2014.

Patients undergoing IVF at Bourn Hall who have immature eggs not suitable for treatment may donate these eggs for research so that they can be studied with powerful microscopes. This research is vital as human eggs are very different to other mammals.

Dr Schuh’s team previously demonstrated that spindle structures within mouse eggs are more robust and less prone to errors compared to humans2.

She explains: “Human meiosis is very error prone. Since humans have a long lifespan and relatively few progeny, in evolutionary terms it may not be a problem if one in four eggs fail to give rise to a viable embryo. For mice this rate of failure would have a much greater impact, and they have developed additional mechanisms that help the spindle structure to assemble faster, making meiosis more reliable and accurate.”

Dr Schuh continues: “We really hope to develop tools that could potentially be used in the clinic in the longer term. Of course the basic research must first be carried out, but we are already starting to look at methods that could potentially help with some of these problems.”

 

References

  1. Nature Methods: Light-sheet Fluorescence Microscopy – Method of the Year 2014
    Light-sheet Fluorescence Microscopy can Image Living Samples in Three Dimensions with Relatively Low Phototoxicity and at High Speed. January 14, 2015
  2. Holubcová, Z., Blayney,M., Elder, K., Schuh, M. (2015) Error-prone chromosome-mediated spindle assembly favors chromosome segregation defects in human oocytes. Science 348, 1143-1147
  3. 3. Zielinska, AP, Holubcova, Z, Blayney, M, Elder, K, Schuh, M. (2015) Sister kinetochore splitting and precocious disintegration of bivalents could explain the maternal age effect. eLife 4:e11389

 

About Dr Melina Schuh, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

  • Diploma degree in biochemistry from the University of Bayreuth, Germany
  • PhD with Jan Ellenberg at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
  • 2009: started her own group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.
  • January 2016: appointed Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, to establish a new department focussing on meiosis.

 

She is an EMBO Young Investigator, EMBO member and a recipient of the prestigious 2014 Lister Institute Research Prize, awarded annually to three or four young researchers in the UK to support and nurture quality research in biomedical or related biological sciences. She also gained the 2014 Biochemical Society Early Career Award, the 2015 John Kendrew Young Scientist Award and the 2016 Binder Award.

New GERI incubators provide near natural environment for IVF

Bourn Hall is the first IVF clinic in the country to introduce a new incubator and embryo assessment technology from Merck. The GERI incubator has integral cameras in each chamber so the embryos can be viewed without exposing them to light and the Eeva test makes it easier to grade embryos, improving chances of implantation.

Martyn Blayney, Head of Science at Bourn Hall comments: “When culturing embryos we try to disturb them as little as possible and minimise their exposure to light in order to emulate the natural environment.

“However, at present, embryo development can only be assessed under a microscope which necessitates removing them from the controlled environment of the incubator.

“With the new GERI+ incubator each patient’s embryos are kept together in a dedicated chamber, like a personal incubator, whilst an internal time-lapse camera monitors and records their development.

“This means that they are totally undisturbed throughout their time in the laboratory ensuring critical parameters such as temperature, pH and atmosphere are completely stable.”

GERI offers time-lapse photography

Images are taken every 5 minutes and provide time-lapse footage. These are continually analysed using the Early Embryo Viability (EEVA) test, which uses a software algorithm to predict which embryos are developing most vigorously. The embryologist can also view the time-lapse photography to check that the cells have been dividing evenly.

The embryo assessment technology provides the embryologist with an additional means for deciding which embryo to select for transfer to the womb. Although the Bourn Hall embryologists will still rely on expertise they have developed by doing hundreds of successful embryo transfers each month, the Eeva test does provide additional, objective information to aid decision-making.

For example, the highest IVF success rates occur when the embryo is transferred at the 5-day blastocyst stage. This is the point where cells from the embryo start to differentiate, with some becoming part of the placenta and others the foetus, ready for implantation in the womb.

Currently the embryologists wait 5 days to see which embryos reach this stage. If it were possible to predict this with accuracy the embryos could be transferred to the woman earlier, reducing the time spent in incubation and potentially increasing success rates.

Improving chances

GERI has not yet been conclusively proven to increase success rates but there is some suggestion that the combination of stable environmental conditions and continuous monitoring gives the embryos the best possible start.

Poor implantation is a common reason why pregnancies are lost at an early stage. Embryos graded Category 1 using the Eeva test had a 60% implantation rate for patients under 35**.

For more information

Read our patient information for more information  IS034R6.00 – Geri+ and Early Embryo Viability (Eeva) Test 

Please note this treatment is an additional cost and not covered by any NHS funding or Access Package.

References

[*] Conaghan et al., Fertility & Sterility, 2013

[**] Behr, et al. September 2015 Volume 104, Issue 3, Supplement, Page e152

National Fertility Awareness Week 2017

National Fertility Awareness Week is still needed, despite the advances in treatment since the first “test-tube baby” Louise Brown was conceived 40 years ago.

Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has maintained its position at the forefront of this field of medicine supporting research in best practice and embryology to further the work of its founders, the IVF pioneers Steptoe and Edwards.

In her autobiography Louise describes the great affection and gratitude that she and her mother Lesley Brown felt towards Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. Without their commitment and determination Louise and nearly six million other IVF babies worldwide would not be here.

IVF has become a widely accepted treatment for infertility so it is hard to understand that in 1968, when Professor Edwards became the first person to successfully fertilise a human egg outside the body and take it to blastocyst stage (the point at which the cells in the embryo differentiate), Embryology was not even considered a worthwhile field of study. In fact, the enormity of this breakthrough was only fully recognised 40 years later when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology.

It was to take a further 10 years of work before the birth of Louise in 1978 – the first baby to be conceived as a result of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, at Bourn Hall
Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby, at Bourn Hall with the ‘test-tube’ in which she was created

A Bourn Hall baby born every 8 hours 

In 1980 Edwards and his co-pioneer, the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, established Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge as the world’s first IVF clinic. It was here they went on to perfect the techniques that would help many people struggling to conceive. When Steptoe and Edwards first established Bourn Hall success rates were around 10%; pregnancy rates following IVF treatment have steadily improved over the years and recent developments are increasing success rates even further.

Now there is one Bourn Hall baby born every 8 hours and where NHS-funded IVF treatment is available according to the NICE guidelines, 8 out of 10 patients become parents.

Recent work at Bourn Hall has advanced fertility treatment through: 

The next big goal is to reduce recurrent miscarriage

Successful implantation requires cooperation from both embryo and uterus alike, yet much of the research that has been carried out to date has been focussed solely on the embryo. The process of implantation is known, yet the control mechanisms and dialogue between embryo and endometrium is poorly understood.

The next big challenge for reproductive medicine is improving implantation and reducing recurrent miscarriage.

National Fertility Awareness Week 2017

We are holding a Fertility Fayre on November 4th 2017 open to anyone trying to conceive, as more knowledge emerges about the human reproductive system so too do better ways to boost natural fertility.  More information. 

A fifty percent success rate was Steptoe and Edward’s dream when they first set up the clinic, now 59.1% of patients aged under 38 having a blastocyst transfer at our Norfolk clinic in 2016 achieved a clinical pregnancy.

We are looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the next 40 years.

To read Louise Brown’s book. 

Bourn Hall’s pivotal role in groundbreaking embryo research

Embryos used in ground breaking research at the Francis Crick Institute were donated by patients who had undergone fertility treatment at Bourn Hall.  The majority had completed their families through IVF treatment and wanted to help other infertile people by donating their remaining embryos to help understand the fundamental processes of embryo development through this research study.

Researchers have used genome editing technology to reveal the role of a key gene important for human embryos in the first few days of development. This is the first time that genome editing has been used to study gene function in human embryos, which could help scientists to better understand the biology of our early development.

Gene important for human embryos 

After the egg is fertilised, it divides until at about 7 days it forms a ball of around 200 cells called the ‘blastocyst’.  The study found that human embryos need the gene OCT4 to correctly form a blastocyst.

“We were surprised to see just how crucial this gene is for human embryo development, but we need to continue our work to confirm its role,” says Dr Norah Fogarty from the Francis Crick Institute, first author of the study.

Dr Kathy Niakan from the Francis Crick Institute, who led the research, adds: “One way to find out what a gene does in the developing embryo is to see what happens when it isn’t working.”

The team used genome editing techniques to stop a key gene from producing a protein called OCT4, which normally becomes active in the first few days of human embryo development.

Dr Niakan continues: “Now we have demonstrated an efficient way of stopping the gene working, we hope that other scientists will use it to find out the roles of other genes. If we knew the key genes that embryos need to develop successfully, we could improve IVF treatments and understand some causes of pregnancy failure. It may take many years to achieve such an understanding, our study is just the first step.”

Role in IVF

Time-lapse videos showing the first five days of embryo development. The embryo on the left is unedited, whereas the right has been edited to prevent it producing the OCT4 protein. The unedited embryo forms a stable structure called a ‘blastocyst’ but the edited embryo does not, showing that OCT4 is essential for blastocyst development. (Credit: Dr Kathy Niakan/Nature) Video from The Francis Crick Institute.

Dr. Kay Elder, study co-author, from Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic, says: “Successful IVF treatment is crucially dependent on culture systems that provide an optimal environment for healthy embryo development.

“This research will helping us to identify the factors that are essential for ensuring that human embryos can develop into healthy babies and in future this knowledge will significantly improve treatment for infertile couples.”

The team spent over a year optimising their techniques using mouse embryos and human embryonic stem cells before starting work on human embryos. To inactivate OCT4, they used an editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9 to change the DNA of 41 human embryos. After seven days, embryo development was stopped and the embryos were analysed.

The embryos used in the study were donated by couples who had undergone IVF treatment, they had completed their family and wanted their frozen embryos to be used for research. The study was done under a research licence and strict regulatory oversight from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK Government’s independent regulator overseeing infertility treatment and research.

Create and use stem cellsgene important for human embryo

As well as human embryo development, OCT4 is thought to be important in stem cell biology.

‘Pluripotent’ stem cells can become any other type of cell, and they can be derived from embryos or created from adult cells such as skin cells. Human embryonic stem cells are taken from a part of the developing embryo that has high levels of OCT4.

“We have the technology to create and use pluripotent stem cells, which is undoubtedly a fantastic achievement, but we still don’t understand exactly how these cells work,” explains Dr James Turner, co-author of the study, from the Francis Crick Institute. “Learning more about how different genes cause cells to become and remain pluripotent will help us to produce and use stem cells more reliably.”

Sir Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, says: “This is exciting and important research. The study has been carried out with full regulatory oversight and offers new knowledge of the biological processes at work in the first five or six days of a human embryo’s healthy development. Kathy Niakan and colleagues are providing new understanding of the genes responsible for a crucial change when groups of cells in the very early embryo first become organised and set on different paths of development. The processes at work in these embryonic cells will be of interest in many areas of stem cell biology and medicine.”

Dr Ludovic Vallier, co-author on the study, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Wellcome – MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, said: “This study represents an important step in understanding human embryonic development. The acquisition of this knowledge will be essential to develop new treatments against developmental disorders and could also help understand adult diseases such as diabetes that may originate during the early stage of life. Thus, this research will open new fields of opportunity for basic and translational applications.”

Paper published in Nature

The research was published in Nature and led by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at Cambridge University, Oxford University, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Seoul National University and Bourn Hall Clinic. It was chiefly funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Wellcome and Cancer Research UK.

The research paper, ‘Genome editing of OCT4 reveals distinct mechanisms of lineage specification in human and mouse embryos’, will be published in Nature after this time; it will be available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature24033

NHS funding for Cambridge IVF treatment has been cut by CCG

NHS funding for Cambridge IVF treatment has been cut, it was announced by the Cambridge and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group last night (5 September 2017) despite overwhelming public opposition.

The news will be heartbreaking to many people who have been waiting to hear if they will be referred for IVF treatment.  The decision does not affect those that have already been referred.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO Bourn Hall Clinic, says: “It is very sad that the CCG has decided to cut all funding for IVF as we know this will be devastating to many people. Infertility is a recognised disease and impacts the quality of life for those affected and their wider families.

Information given by the CCG during the consultation process about the cost of IVF was misleading. This was challenged by Healthwatch Cambridgeshire, a patient advocacy group, and also by patients who said they had paid less for self-funded treatment so the figures must be incorrect.

The price the NHS pays for IVF treatment is agreed through competitive tender and based on a strictly prescribed package.  It is the same for all CCGs across the region, the majority of whom have maintained the service.

Dr Macnamee comments: “During the consultation the figures given for the cost of IVF varied widely and so too were the numbers given of patients treated. Without clarification of these costs it seems unlikely that the CCG will achieve the level of savings claimed, which at best is less than 0.006% of its annual budget.”

 “IVF is more expensive in the UK than other countries because of strict regulations ensuring very high standards of expertise and care. Removing the funding will encourage more people to go overseas increasing the chance of multiple births. Just three sets of triplets will wipe out any saving.”

NHS funding for Cambridge IVF treatment

The success rates for NHS IVF patients treated at Bourn Hall are very high, with 8 out of 10 patients having a baby after the three cycles of treatment. The level recommended as clinically and cost-effective by the national commission group NICE.

Bourn Hall provides a range of fertility treatments, not just IVF, and for many people lifestyle advice or medication will be sufficient to boost their natural fertility. Research has shown that many people do not currently receive this type of advice or adequate fertility testing and this is set to become less available following the IVF cuts.

Dr Macnamee is also concerned over comments made about NHS fertility services by Dr Gary Howsam, Clinical Chair of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, following the announcement of the decision:

“Dr Howsam’s reassurance that basic fertility services and testing in the NHS is adequately provided for is starkly contradicted by the average waiting time for a first appointment at Addenbrookes of over 200 days from GP referral.”

NHS funding for Cambridge IVF

This has led Bourn Hall to offer, for a limited period, free consultations.

Free fertility consultation 

Bourn Hall is the world’s first IVF clinic, set up by IVF pioneers Steptoe and Edwards. Dr Macnamee says: “With our unique track record in fertility treatment we are in a strong position to help advise the CCG on creating an integrated service that will improve fertility care cost-effectively and help people at an earlier stage.

“Only a small number of people require IVF there are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted.  

“In response to this decision for a limited period we are offering a free consultation with a fertility nurse specialist to give advice on a range of measures that can be used to help people become parents.”

More information about the consultation and impact on patients 

To read the post-consultation report click here – note page 13 which confirms that patients already referred will be given IVF treatment and also page 16 which gives a correction on the quoted costs for treatment.

To read the response from Healthwatch Cambridgeshire, click here.

For advice about how to find out about NHS fertility treatment in your area, click here.

How Bourn Hall is trying to make IVF more accessible

Get advice – If you are concerned about your fertility then attend a free Bourn Hall Fertility Roadshow that includes a complimentary personal mini consultation. Also for a limited period we are offering a free Fertility Health and Wellbeing initial consultation with a fertility nurse specialist – just phone 01954 717210 to book your appointment.

Get tested – As funding for IVF is cut we also notice that less NHS testing is occurring – a fertility test for you and your partner will reveal if there are any underlying issues; if there are none, then lifestyle advice or a short course of medication to boost your egg production might be sufficient to improve your chances of conception. Fertility tests can be completed within one menstrual cycle and there is no waiting list.

Consider your options – IVF might seem an expensive treatment, but the cost can be spread over time or the risk reduced with multi-cycle packages or a money-back guarantee if you are unsuccessful. We have teamed up with Access Fertility to help make treatment more affordable.

Free IVF if you or a friend donates – For some couples using their own eggs or sperm is not an option and they need to use donated gametes. Individuals that donate eggs or sperm are able to gift free treatment to themselves or to a friend. Full implications counselling is required and you would need to meet certain criteria. More details are available here. 

Talk to us – Only a few people struggling with infertility need IVF – there may be other options to try first, but the sooner you try the better. If you are concerned the key thing is to act now. Let’s talk. 

8 out of 10 Herts NHS patients have a baby within 3 IVF cycles

Breaking news IVF treatment: @ENHertsCCG (North and East Hertfordshire CCG) to drop to one cycle and @HVCCG (Herts Valley CCG) to drop to 0, to be reviewed in 12 months, according to Healthwatch Herts

We are waiting for an official announcement from the three CCGs who recently invited consultation on this decision (Herts Valley, East and North Herts and West Essex).

80 per cent of Herts IVF patients who meet the strict criteria will have a baby if they are given the option of three full cycles, the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommendation. This information, based on the experience of real patients in Hertfordshire over 5 years, has not been used within a consultation document produced by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who cover Hertfordshire and West Essex.

The ‘Healthier Future Let’s Talk’ document1 has been produced by North and East Herts, Herts Valley and West Essex CCGs to inform a debate about cutting funding for specialist fertility treatment. It uses national data to suggest that if 100 women are given treatment “according to the NICE fertility guidance” only 20 – 35 will have a baby. The true figure for patients in the region who have had treatment at Bourn Hall is closer to 80 if they can have up to three cycles as recommended by NICE.

Between 2009 and 2014 all patients in Hertfordshire and Essex who met the criteria were entitled to three cycles of IVF as recommended by NICE2. During this time 33% of NHS couples became pregnant on their first cycle of IVF when treated at Bourn Hall. After three cycles this increases to 8 out of 10 women giving birth.

8 out of 10 Herts IVF patients have a baby within 3 IVF cycles

A more effective approach for fertility care 

Dr Mike Macnamee is the CEO of Bourn Hall. He explains that when the clinic was awarded a five-year contract for NHS-funded IVF in 2009, it was able to improve treatment, drive down costs and increase success rates for Herts IVF patients.

He comments: “We have five years of real data about real patients that demonstrate clearly the benefits of implementing the NICE guidelines for those that meet the eligibility criteria.

“The CCG has not talked to us about how fertility care could be delivered more effectively. A more integrated approach that would involve GPs and fertility specialists working more closely together would streamline the system, create better outcomes and be more cost-effective for the CCGs.”

Success rates for IVF are highly individual. A healthy 27 year old woman with lots of eggs whose partner has a low sperm count may have a 50% chance of getting pregnant first time but the odds for an older woman who produces fewer eggs would be lower.

To make it easier for couples to calculate their chances of success after one or more cycles of treatment, researchers at the University of Aberdeen have created an online tool3. It uses a model that takes HFEA data for 113,873 couples and then adjusts it to take into account age, time spent trying to conceive, and type of infertility. Some may require IVF sooner while others may need more cycles of IVF treatment to become pregnant.

The study, led by David McLernon, and reported in the BMJ3, makes the point that using unadjusted data is not representative of the true chances of success.

The Hertfordshire and West Essex CCG consultation cites the BMJ paper as evidence but uses the unadjusted HFEA data to imply that for every 100 women who have IVF or specialist fertility treatment only 20 will have a baby as a result4. It neglects to say that this is based on one cycle and is not the accumulated success rate achieved by implementing the full NICE guidelines.

Furthermore it uses a different study to suggest that unsuccessful IVF treatment increases the chance of depression, despite the widely accepted understanding that it is infertility that causes severe mental distress.

Dr Macnamee continues: “Infertility is a medical condition and it deserves better diagnosis at an earlier stage.

“Recent cuts in funding have signalled that this area of medicine is not a priority and as a result the causes of infertility are also not being properly investigated. The risk is that even couples who might conceive naturally will miss out on having a baby as they are not being given relevant advice or medication.

“Withdrawal of funding will encourage people to go abroad for treatment and a few returning with multiple pregnancy will wipe out any saving.”

Herts IVF consultation

The consultation on IVF and specialist fertility services in the Hertfordshire and West Essex closes on the 14th September 2017 more information and the online questionnaire is available on www.healthierfuture.org.uk/ivf

  1. Consultation paper ‘A healthier future: Let’s Talk IVF and fertility services in Hertfordshire and west Essex’. http://www.healthierfuture.org.uk/publications lifts data from the BMJ paper but the diagram on page 7 neglects to say this is based on data from one cycle and not the NICE fertility guidelines as implied.
  2. In 2004 NICE produced clinical guidelines based on evidence. It recommended that 3 full cycles of IVF treatment should be provided to infertile couples, where the woman was aged 23-39, had an identified cause for their infertility or who had unexplained infertility for 3 years.
  3. Predict your personal success rate – This online tool developed by researchers at Aberdeen University is available here: http://w3.abdn.ac.uk/clsm/opis/home/about
  4. Predicting the chances of a live birth after one or more complete cycles of in vitro fertilisation: population based study of linked cycle data from 113 873 women. David J McLernon et al BMJ 2016;355:i5735 http://www.bmj.com/content/355/bmj.i5735/rapid-responses

8 out of 10 Cambridge NHS IVF patients have a baby within 3 cycles

“Infertility does affect you deeply; it is like a primal calling to have children. I would have really struggled if I had not been able to have a baby,” says Laura Foley, from Fulbourn, devoted mum to IVF baby Alfie.

She feels a deep sense of sadness that others may not have the chance that she was given. Plans are being discussed to remove all funding for Cambridge NHS IVF patients.

Laura, who works with disabled adults, understands how difficult the funding landscape has become and says that she and husband Michael feel “really blessed” that their treatment was funded. “Who knows? If we had left it another year we might not have been able to have NHS-funded treatment.”

Laura and her husband had treatment at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic established almost 40 years ago, which provides treatment to NHS and self-funded patients.

You can read their story here.

Excellent success rates

Dr Mike Macnamee CEO of Bourn Hall says success rates have continually improved. When Cambridge implemented the NICE recommendations of 3 cycles of treatment 8 out 10 couples became pregnant and had a baby (see diagram).
8 out of 10 Cambridge NHS IVF patients have a baby within 3 cycles
Dr Macnamee comments: “Infertility is a medical condition, that causes severe mental distress and it deserves better diagnosis at an earlier stage. “Recent cuts in funding have signalled that this area of medicine is not a priority and as a result the causes of infertility are also not being properly investigated. The risk is that even couples who might conceive naturally will miss out on having a baby as they are not being given relevant advice or medication.”

“We have proposed a more integrated approach that would involve GPs and fertility specialists working more closely together would streamline the system, create better outcomes and be more cost-effective for the CCGs.”

Multiple births increase the chances of complications and premature babies. The policy of single embryo transfer for NHS funded patients has resulted in a reduction in the number of multiple births from 25% to 6% in the last three years.

Dr Macnamee warns: “Withdrawal of funding will encourage people to go abroad for treatment where clinics are not closely regulated and a few returning with multiple pregnancy will wipe out any saving from cutting IVF funding.”

Cambridge NHS IVF funding at risk (note this blog was written in 2017 there is now no funding for IVF treatment in Cambridge, home of IVF, but the petition has nearly reached 4,000)

90 percent of CCGs fund one or more cycle of IVF – if Cambridge cuts all funding it will be one of only 5 CCGs across England to do so.

For more information about the Cambridge consultation click here.

For more information about ways to fund your treatment click here.

 

A petition organised by local people has gathered over 1700 signatures: sign it here https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/keep-ivf-treatment-on-the-nhs-in-cambridgeshire-and-peterborough.

To read the Foleys story click here

Bourn Hall King’s Lynn celebrates 2nd birthday

After being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which was wreaking havoc with her fertility, Ellen Chestney from Norfolk knew that her chances of getting pregnant were low and was delighted when her GP referred her directly to a dedicated fertility clinic. “With irregular periods it was hard to know when I was fertile,” she says, “and my husband Mark works at Heathrow Airport so the windows of opportunity were quite slim!”

Norfolk was one of the first counties to provide an integrated fertility service. Ellen and her husband Mark were referred by their GP for diagnostic tests at Bourn Hall fertility clinic in King’s Lynn, a dedicated fertility clinic, to enable an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

Carol Steel is the Lead Specialist Fertility Nurse at Bourn Hall Clinic in King’s Lynn. The clinic is celebrating its second anniversary this month and she is delighted with the success rates.

Carol explains: “For many people simple lifestyle advice or a drug regime can be sufficient to boost their natural fertility and increase the chance of a natural pregnancy. With an early diagnosis and the right support many people struggling with infertility can become pregnant without the need for IVF.”

In the two years since it opened around 800 couples have been referred to Bourn Hall clinics in King’s Lynn and Wymondham for the fertility service. Half of those couples diagnosed with an ovulation issue have now become pregnant.

Bourn Hall King’s Lynn pioneers new approach

This was the case for Ellen. Soon after the couple got married she had become pregnant naturally, but sadly miscarried at 11 weeks. After trying for a further year they went to their GP for advice.

If the Chestneys lived in a different part of the country the couple would have been referred to the local hospital. Tests would then be performed sequentially using a process of elimination. A process that can take months, or even years in some cases, to get a diagnosis.

Fortunately, Norfolk has pioneered a new approach, where fertility specialists work closely with the GPs to improve patient care. So the cause of their infertility was diagnosed quickly within a few menstrual cycles.

Carol, who worked previously at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, believes this to be a major improvement: “Where I was working before at the Queen Elizabeth, people struggling with fertility issues had their tests in the women’s health department and patients may have had to wait with ladies who were pregnant.

“Now the testing is done in this dedicated fertility clinic where everything is geared towards making people feel comfortable. It’s a very nice environment – relaxed and calm, and helpful to both patients and staff.”

Bourn Hall King's Lynn celebrates 2nd birthday and success of integrated fertility service
The Bourn Hall Clinic King’s Lynn family (left to right): Natasha Carver (Receptionist Administrator), Justine Hill (Healthcare Assistant), Carol Steel (Lead Specialist Fertility Nurse), Kimberley Gardiner (Receptionist Administrator)

Overcoming PCOS

Ellen was diagnosed with PCOS, a common cause of infertility, which affects ovulation (the production and release of mature eggs). Without regular ovulation it is more difficult to get pregnant. Bourn Hall recommended Clomid to induce her ovulation and she was monitored regularly.

“This meant that I could predict a lot better when I would be fertile,” says Ellen, “and on those days Mark made sure he was home nice and early for a romantic dinner…..”

The ‘romantic dinners’ (and the Clomid) clearly worked as Ellen fell pregnant and nine months later in December 2016 gave birth to son Arthur Chestney at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn. “The painful bit of labour only lasted a couple of hours and I managed to get through on gas and air,” Ellen laughs.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall in Norfolk, explains that lifestyle advice such as cutting out alcohol and smoking can make a visible difference to the quality of sperm in just three months, and improving diet, losing weight and taking dietary supplements can overcome infertility that results from PCOS.

He continues: “PCOS is difficult to diagnose if you are not familiar with it so closer working between fertility specialists and GPs will allow patients to take early action and prevent future health issues such as diabetes which are associated with PCOS.

“The role of the GP and the practice nurse has changed considerably over recent years and we are seeing greater integration of primary, secondary and tertiary care. The Bourn Hall example shows how this can create an improved experience for the patient and an excellent fertility service for the local community.”

Ellen and her husband are delighted to be parents: “Arthur is a healthy and happy baby and being a mum is absolutely fantastic. I just feel warm all over when the three of us are having a hug. We still can’t believe that such a wonderful little boy is ours for keeps.”

Bourn Hall King's Lynn celebrates 2nd birthday and success of integrated fertility service header
Ellen and Mark with Arthur

More information

Find out more about our King’s Lynn clinic here.

Read more stories about overcoming PCOS

For more about Fertility Checks. 

Herts Valley CCG suspends IVF referrals

Herts Valley CCG  has announced that it is to suspend new referrals for IVF and specialist fertility services for 6 months, during which time there will be a consultation period. Bourn Hall has expressed concern over the impact this will have for those affected by infertility.

If you live in Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans, Three Rivers and Watford and have not already been referred for treatment then you may be affected.

The decision by  Herts Valley CCG was made at a meeting on 15 June 2017 and was taken as part of a six month review of, and consultation on, IVF and specialised fertility provision.

The CCG says that in exceptional cases, for example where a woman is at the upper age limit for IVF treatment, then consultation can be considered.

There will be opportunities for all stakeholders to get involved with the review and to provide input and feedback and the dates for the public meetings are below.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall Clinic, says: “We understand the additional stress that this suspension of treatment places on couples struggling with infertility.”

“Infertility is a medical condition that can cause considerable emotional distress and strain on relationships. The majority of CCGs in the country fund at least one cycle of IVF and we will put the medical case for funding treatment.

“Many causes of infertility can be resolved without IVF. However, our concern is that without the potential for specialist fertility treatment, the condition is given a lower priority at primary care. Without an accurate diagnosis many people will miss out on parenthood when adjustments to lifestyle or a course of medication may be sufficient to realise their dream.”

Herts Valley CCG suspends IVF referrals – public consultations

Herts Valley CCG announcement

More information about Consultations 

26 June 7-9pm Penn Chambers, Three Rivers House, Northway, Rickmansworth WD3 1RL
24 Jul 7-9pm Stanborough Centre, St Albans Road, Watford, WD25 9JZ or
31 July 7-9pm Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ.

Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) says these are important public meetings to seek the views of local people on future spending plans. At the meetings they will be sharing proposals to reduce spending in response to growing financial pressures and the need to balance budgets. They are considering changing access to some services.

To book your place or for more information please email enquiries.hvccg@nhs.net or ring 01442 898884

Herts Valley IVF patients

If you are an existing patient and concerned about your treatment or a previous patient and prepared to comment to the media about how you have benefited from NHS funded IVF treatment then do get in touch

Son for man who thought he would never be a dad

A man who thought he would never be a dad celebrated Father’s Day this year with his baby son. Some otherwise healthy people can be infertile from a hidden medical condition. Ash and Abigail shared their story to encourage others to seek advice as Bourn Hall Clinic takes its free roadshow to Colchester United’s stadium on June 24 2017.

Never be a dad

“Ash was so emotional when Zach was born,” says his partner Abigail (34). There had been times when he thought that he would never be a Dad so he has found the whole thing just overwhelming. He cannot believe it, he is overjoyed.”

Ash (35) had always dreamed of being a father. It meant so much to him that he warned his partner on their second date that if she wanted children they might need IVF. “It was very honest of Ash to tell me so soon in to our relationship. I was in my thirties and looking for a life partner to have children with so he knew that it might be a big deal for me.”

Although he is healthy and shows no symptoms of the disease, Ash is a carrier of the cystic fibrosis gene – as are around one in 25 white Europeans in the UK. Carriers of CF can have problems with their fertility as some men are born without a vas deferens (the tubes which transport sperm from the testicles to the penis). As the couple’s relationship quickly grew serious it became clear that they both wanted children and this was going to require fertility treatment.

Infertility not just age related

Abigail says: “I had been aware that some people find it harder to get pregnant as they get older, but not many of our friends had children so I hadn’t given it too much thought until now. “I was conscious that IVF might not work and that it might take more than one attempt. So, as we both wanted children, we ought to get cracking.”

Abigail underwent her own fertility tests which didn’t flag up any issues and the couple were referred for NHS funded IVF treatment.

They had an appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic to discuss treatment.

Many options for male infertility

Mr Oliver Wiseman, Consultant Urologist and specialist in male fertility at Bourn Hall, explains that carriers of CF may have no symptoms of the disease and are able to produce healthy sperm the absence of a vas tube means that sperm are unable to leave the testicle to reach the ejaculate.

Surgical sperm retrieval can be used to find sperm either in the epididymis, where sperm is stored, or from immature sperm in tissue.

“To ensure the sperm sample is used efficiently, a procedure called intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is usually offered where the best sperm are selected and injected directly into the collected eggs. The fertilised egg is then transferred to the woman.”

Abigail comments: “I felt extremely grateful that IVF was available as an option to us as it was going to be the only way that we might conceive. I also suddenly became acutely aware of how flippant people can be when they are talk about having babies. Unless infertility affects you or someone close to you I think it is difficult for people to understand what it is like.”

The first attempt was not successful and Abigail started to bleed two days before the test date; the couple were devastated. After waiting a few months, they tried again and the test was positive. When Ash found out at the 20-week scan that the couple were expecting a boy, he was over the moon; he had always dreamed of having a son. Zach was born at Ipswich Hospital on November 17.

Son for man who thought he would never be a dad

Overjoyed 

“Ash was overjoyed when Zach was born,” says Abigail. “He isn’t normally an emotional person but even now when he is talking about Zach his eyes well up. He cannot believe it.”

“Father’s Day means the world to me now I can celebrate being a Dad,” smiles Ash. “Spending the day with my son will be amazing and I feel very fortunate to be in this position. We’re so grateful for the NHS funding and to Bourn Hall for our treatment.”

Eighty per cent of couples will become pregnant within one year of trying, so if you have been trying for a baby for longer than this it is recommended that you seek advice. On June 24 Bourn Hall is hosting a free fertility roadshow in the Player’s Lounge at Colchester United’s stadium.

More information 

The event is open to anyone wanting to find out more about their own fertility and includes a mini consultation. For more information about the event or to book a free place please visit the event page here.

Male infertility advice.

Special Relationship: World’s first test-tube baby meets first USA IVF baby

The world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown, born nearly 40 years ago in the UK as a result of a medical breakthrough by IVF pioneers Steptoe and Edwards, has flown to Chicago to finally meet Elizabeth Jordan Carr who made history three years later as the USA’s first IVF baby.

The meeting of the first IVF babies was arranged by the Midwest Reproductive Symposium International and took place on the 16th June 2017.

Elizabeth Carr was born on the 28 December 1981 in Virginia and was the 15th in the world to be born as a result of IVF but the first in the USA. It was publicity about Louise’s birth that made the treatment possible in America.

Elizabeth Carr, America's first IVF baby, meets Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby
America’s first IVF baby meets the world’s first test-tube baby

Dr Howard Jones and his wife Georgeanna from Baltimore had a growing reputation for their work in fertility. They knew Professor Robert Edwards well and Dr Jones had spoken in his support several years previously when biomedical ethics was debated in the USA.

When Georgeanna was door-stepped by a journalist when news of Steptoe and Edward’s achievement became public she was asked “what is the biggest barrier to creating a test-tube baby” in the USA and Georgeanna replied “money”.

The coverage prompted a wealthy patient to donate the money and the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine was established in 1980. Immediately they were inundated with requests from women wanting treatment including Elizabeth’s mother.

By this time Steptoe, Edwards and Jean Purdy had also set up Bourn Hall Clinic in Bourn Cambridge UK and Louise Brown’s younger sister Natalie was born in 1982 after her parents had further successful IVF treatment at the new clinic.

So from both sides of the Atlantic IVF pioneers were giving hope to infertile couples. It is hard now to imagine the enormous impact of the work of these two teams – but sadly access to the life changing treatment is still limited by money.

(Pictured at top: Louise Brown [L], Valerie Landis [C] and Elizabeth Carr [R])

Elizabeth Carr and Louise Brown

 

Openness is best when creating families from donated eggs or sperm says research

There are many ways to create a family and to accept that the child may not be genetically related to one or both parents can open up new options but also questions. A new free event at Bourn Hall – ‘Pathways to Parenthood’ on 17th June 2017 – is designed to help couples and individuals to consider the different possibilities.

Some people have a condition that makes IVF treatment with donated eggs, donated sperm or adoption their only pathway to parenthood and same-sex couples know from the outset that help will be needed to start a family. Acceptance that a different path is needed is the first step.

Counselling helps overcome concerns

Jackie Stewart is an independent fertility counsellor at Bourn Hall Clinic. She says that some patients need to allow themselves time to grieve over the fact that they will not be able to have a child that is biologically related to one or both partners:

“For some this is a massive emotional hurdle, whereas others come to terms with it more quickly.

“Some people decide that they want to cherish what they have and move on with their lives. For others, they may consider fertility treatment with donated eggs/sperm/embryo or via surrogacy.

“Another route is adoption or fostering. We are happy to support them with all these options.”

Jackie provides counselling for couples considering IVF with donated gametes; two of the common issues are a concern that the child will not feel ‘theirs’, and when to tell the child about their origins.

Dr Thomas Mathews, UK Medical Director for Bourn Hall, believes that honesty is a good thing: “The anonymity for sperm and egg donors was lifted in 2005 because it was realised that it is important for children to know their origins. Although this did create a drop in donors initially, we have made up for this at Bourn Hall by creating our own sperm bank, encouraging altruistic donation and offering egg and sperm sharing programmes.

“Patients who participate in the sperm or egg sharing programmes understand clearly what it means to struggle with infertility. They have made an informed choice and are mentally prepared if later they are approached by an 18-year-old looking for more information about their beginnings.”

Creating a family with donated eggs or sperm

Recent research by the Centre for Family Studies* has also concluded that children told about their origins before they are aged seven tend to have more positive family relationships and experience higher levels of adolescent well-being, compared to the child being told later in life.

This is because although children can have understanding of biologically inherited physical characteristics by age four they only grasp the concept of biological relatedness when they are 14. So a child can label themselves as adopted (or donor conceived) at age three, but they will not know the implications until they are seven, and will then develop a more sophisticated understanding of what this means as an adolescent.

Early knowledge helps the child to process this information gradually as they mature.

Adjusting your concept of ‘family’ from giving birth to having a child also helps to create new opportunities.

Ria and Lee decided to use donor sperm after unsuccessful surgical sperm retrieval. Ria says: “We went in with our eyes wide open and we had wanted to try to see if we could have a baby that was genetically ours before considering other options. It was very disappointing when they couldn’t find any sperm.”

However they have no regrets about using donated sperm, as Ria reflects: “It took us a lot longer to get where we are, with our happy bubbly baby, but once referred to Bourn Hall Clinic the process was surprisingly quick. We now couldn’t imagine life without Jacob. Lee phones me every day from work to check how his son is doing – it was well worth going through all the ‘hoops’ to get him.”

Creating a forever family through adoption 

For Fiona, adopting her little boy after 11 years of infertility and failed IVF made her “instantly an insider in a club you have so longed to join for so many long and arduous years during your infertility journey. When you enter it, there is so much joy, so much of the time.

“Through adoption, you come to share in the love, frustrations, happiness, laughs, experienced by all mums and dads. Whilst I have never ever forgotten my infertility, I no longer identify myself primarily as an infertile – I am definitely a mum first and foremost.”

Many Pathways to Parenthood

The Pathways to Parenthood Fayre is being held on 17th June 10am – 3pm at Bourn Hall Clinic, Bourn, Cambridge CB23 2TN

 

*Ilioi, E., Blake, L., Jadva, V., Roman, G. and Golombok, S. (2017), The role of age of disclosure of biological origins in the psychological wellbeing of adolescents conceived by reproductive donation: a longitudinal study from age 1 to age 14. J Child Psychol Psychiatr, 58: 315–324. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12667

Congratulations Spear17 on an epic voyage

Our first ‘ice baby’, Jamie Facer-Childs, is one of only handful of people that have successfully transversed Antartica – he signs off with a last blog.

The SPEAR17 team at the end of their journey
The SPEAR17 team at the end of their journey

Hello everybody. And it’s a very happy hallo to you all because right now, I’m calling you from the Ross Ice Shelf, that’s right, the SPEAR17 team have finished our Polar expedition. After 66 days, two hours and forty-five minutes I think it is, we’ve finally successfully and joyfully completed what’s been a long expedition, and even longer in the planning. We woke today as usual with joy in our hearts as it was our final day. Knowing only 15 nautical miles away we’d cross the edge of the continent and step out onto the sea ice. Adding our five names to the list of only six who make up those who have accomplished the traverse of Antarctica. There have been more people who have walked on the moon than have walked across the seventh continent.

Incredible journey

As with much of our journey, we appear to have been blessed with luck and the sun shone down on us today as we walked alongside each other, talking and smiling our way to the very end. What an incredible journey it has been, and a true testimony to Lou’s leadership. I’d like to say a big thank you to Lou to allowing me to be a part of his team, and to share this experience with him and the others. So thank you Lou.

Reaching the South Pole
Reaching the South Pole

This has been a journey of two parts. The first started as we set off to the Pole. With strong legs and full of vibrant energy, we dragged our heavy sledges up and up onto the Polar plateau, and pushed ourselves hard to reach the Pole on Christmas Day.

….. The ensuing merriment lifted our spirits when we made it there. All we had to do then was just walk down the other side of Antarctica. If only it had been like that! We refilled our pulks with food and fuel and set off from the Pole – our now weary legs and lighter bodies felt the strain as we climbed ever higher onto the Polar plateau. The pulks sticking to the snow surface underneath. It was almost as though those unspoken words passed between us as we looked at each other – ‘Oh, whose idea was this? Finishing at the Pole seems like a much better plan!’ However, those words were never spoken out loud, and there was not a wavering of stamina of anyone in the team.

How foolish of me

So we carried on across the expanse of the great frozen plateau. For 16 days we went on and on with little sign of the terrain giving us any respite, until finally we saw the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. What a sight! We were full of hope, full of hope that we’d start descending to a better place, where the temperature was more survivable, the air’s easier to breathe, and the ice would just glide us downhill.

How foolish of me. As we made progress, we went from obstacle to obstacle, our weary bodies attacked each one with gusto, only to be drained as the sledges then needed to be dragged over the same obstacle. But for me this is where the fun really began, the joy of adventure ignited after being sapped by monotonous days of white nothingness.

Our descent of the Shackleton Glacier has been by far the highlight of this expedition for me. Each day there was new and different terrain to navigate, and challenges came at us thick and fast, and not without their risks, and as hope of making rapid progress down this friendly glacier dissipated, it was quickly replaced by the feeling of excitement that comes with facing down some of the slopes.

Eventually we made it, we made it to the safety of the Ross Ice Shelf, away from crevasses and the cold katabatic winds, oh the joy. What I will remember most about this expedition is the team that I’ve had the privilege to be with. At every turn and at every moment, there was a smiling face that was more willing to look after you than they were themselves. No matter how tough things got, the selflessness of these guys and their ability to endure, has made this expedition such a success.

These guys I’m sat with are not only four devilishly handsome pulk-hauling machines (yes I’ve got pictures to prove that) but they’re also people who’ll remain friends for life, and that’s worth more than a name in the history books.

Big thank you

As we camp now on the far side of Antarctica, waiting to be picked up, I share my joy with you at having been part of SPEAR17. And I must also give a huge thank you for all the support we’ve had following our expedition. It’s been really special for us to receive messages of support from you, and to hear through Wendy that we’ve managed to share our journey with you as well. I’d like to say thank you to all our sponsors and to the British Army; you placed great faith in Lou and this expedition, and your backing made this all possible.

Thank you also to Bourn Hall and to Ortho Barnes for your sponsorship, thank you to my friends and family for your messages, which have been a joy to read while I was out here, and a big thank you to my girlfriend, Holly, I cannot wait to see you when I’m back.

Thank you as well to Henry Worsley, whose footsteps we’ve followed and the route he inspired us and challenged us to take and the legacy he’s created. What’s next for us? Well hopefully we’ll be picked up by ALE and flown to their base at Union Glacier. Once there, we’re going to eat all of the food they have and then jump onto a plane to Chile before they realise!

Time for a hot shower

There’s certainly some recovery to be done, and fortunately we have some time in Chile before we get back to the UK to give us that chance, that chance of at least looking like half the men we were when we left before we’re reunited with our families and our partners.

Well, that’s all from me, I’m sorry to bring this exciting journey to an end, but we’d all happily carry on if there was further to go, but we’re also more than happy to know that our pulk-hauling days are now at an end and it’s time to have a shower, and use it many time before we get back to the UK. Thank you all, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible when we get back at some of our charity fundraising events and others.

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, if there’s something that requires just that little bit more, just think: Onwards.

Photos from spear17.org

To support the Soldier’s Charity

 

MPs to debate decommissioning of IVF and other fertility services

On Thursday 19 January MPs will debate the decommissioning of IVF and other NHS fertility services in Westminster Hall. This debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee following a representation from Steve McCabe, Tom Brake and Edward Vaizey.

The UK pioneered IVF and UK fertility treatment is internationally recognised. We appeal to the MPs to consider the human, societal and economic value of fertility treatment and support the work of Steve McCabe MP, Fertility Network UK and Fertility Fairness in drawing attention to the inequity in fertility provision across the UK.

Infertility is a disease that causes severe emotional distress and psychological illness. For the majority of people ‘family’ is the most important part of their lives.

It is also eminently treatable. According to Bourn Hall’s experience over a seven year period when people that met the NHS guidelines were treated according to the NICE guidelines of IVF – 8 out of 10 women treated had a baby.

A small investment in the future of an ageing population.

Additionally, IVF is only required by a minority of people with infertility – but proper investigation by a specialist is required to determine the cause and best form of treatment. Faster access to a specialist when a couple is young would increase the chance of natural conception and improve success rates for all types of treatment.

According to the WHO infertility is a disease: Infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”… (WHO-ICMART glossary1).

WHO also states that infertility is a disability: Disability: Infertility generates disability (an impairment of function), and thus access to health care falls under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

Steve McCabe MP calls for halt to decommissioning of IVF
Steve McCabe MP calls for halt to decommissioning of IVF

Numerous scientific papers report the huge psychological impact on women and men with infertility issues, for example:

BMJ  paper Psychological aspects of infertility states: Parenthood is one of the major transitions in adult life for both men and women. The stress of the non-fulfilment of a wish for a child has been associated with emotional distress such as anger, depression, anxiety, marital problems and feelings of worthlessness. Partners may become more anxious to conceive, ironically increasing sexual dysfunction and social isolation. Marital discord often develops in infertile couples, especially when they are under pressure to make medical decisions. Couples experience stigma, sense of loss, and diminished self-esteem in the setting of their infertility (Coleman J, Nonacs, R MGH Center for Woman’s Mental Health. Infertility,Assisted Reproduction and Mental Health)

Knowledge of genomics is revolutionising personalised medicine – another area where the UK excels. Applying this knowledge to infertility will keep the UK at the forefront of this area of medicine.

Fertility treatment is essential on all levels – individual, societal and economic.

Help to stop decommissioning of IVF services

Bourn Hall supports Steve McCabe MP, Fertility Network UK and Fertility Fairness in their drive to secure equal and fair access to fertility treatment across England.

You can download the debate pack from www.parliament.uk, comment via the House of Commons Facebook page here,

Work begins on brand new Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford

Bourn Hall’s regional clinic manager Sarah Pallett is very excited about the developments. “We are delighted with the success rates in Wickford; over 100 babies have been born so far with another 50 on the way,” she says. “The existing clinic has proved to be very popular with patients, so it seemed a logical step to locate a full-service clinic in the town. The additional space will allow us to offer a wider range of fertility treatments to more people.”

Gemma Kerr and mother of Mathew, one of the first 100 Wickford babies, welcomes the news, she says: “If we had been able to have all of our treatment at Wickford it would have been absolutely brilliant. It would have put us at our ease.

“I was nervous on the day when the embryo was implanted so it would have been nice to have it done in Wickford where we had all of our other appointments and which had become so familiar to us. We had got to know the receptionist, we even sat in the same seats each time when we visited!”

The new purpose-built centre will offer fertility health and well being checks, to quickly identify the cause of infertility, and a range of treatments. If IVF is required the clinic will have its own state-of-the-art embryology laboratory so all treatment can take place on-site.

Sarah Pallet continues: “Wickford is the ideal place for us to offer the full range of fertility services as it easily accessible to people from South Hertfordshire and North London as well as Essex, removing the need to travel into London. We look forward to seeing the building take shape over the coming months.”

Brand new Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford

The new purpose-built centre is to be located on London Road, Wickford and will have capacity for 1000 IVF cycles a year. It is the first time that Bourn Hall has commissioned a new build and it is anticipated that it will form a blueprint for further clinics.

There is a strong Essex team involved in the construction of the new clinic, with project management by The Healthcare Property Company, an innovative developer of healthcare premises based in Maldon, and building work by Southend-on-Sea construction company AW Hardy. Architects BRP have designed the clinic to the highest specifications.

Managing Director of The Healthcare Property Company (HPC), Paul Stacey, said: “I’m delighted that HPC is providing a purpose-built, full service IVF Clinic in Wickford for Bourn Hall. We have worked very closely with an experienced, innovative team of design and construction specialists to develop a high spec facility which meets the exacting requirements of Bourn Hall – from the intricate workings of the clean rooms, to the structural elements designed to reduce vibration.”

Brp architects have also welcomed the opportunity of working alongside Bourn Hall and its development partners The Healthcare Property Company Limited and comment: “The site on London Road, Wickford was earmarked as a natural location for expansion of Bourn Hall’s services, and although the chosen site has not been without it’s challenges, the finished building promises to be rewarding both architecturally and for all those who will use it.

“As a collaborative project between Bourn Hall Clinic and The Healthcare Property Company Limited, the ‘breaking of ground’ marks a milestone moment for the project as well signifying the efforts and hard work by everyone involved with the project up to this stage.”

“We welcome the appointment of AW Hardy & Co of Southend on Sea, as the Main Building Contractor and we now look forward to working closely with them during the construction phase.”

The new facility will directly benefit patients like Gemma, who not only has an ‘absolutely amazing’ little boy but also her fibroids, a possible reason for her infertility, have improved. She now has regular periods, and says that she may now have a better chance of falling pregnant without needing further fertility treatment.

“My body seems to have re-set itself,” she laughs. “So it is possible that I may fall pregnant naturally in the future. If not, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Bourn Hall.”

Bourn Hall China to establish new clinic in Zhoushan

Infertility rates are the same across the globe, with one in six couples requiring assisted reproduction to become parents. The pain of those suffering from infertility is also the same the world over. Chinese couples are to have greater access to world-class fertility treatment following the announcement of a new collaboration between Bourn Hall China and Zhoushan Maternal and Children’s Health Hospital to establish a new clinic.

Zhoushan Archipelago is known as a Buddhist ‘Paradise on the Sea’ and is already a place of pilgrimage for many Chinese seeking fertility help. The new fertility clinic on the island will provide high quality support for these people and those living in the province.

Bourn Hall Clinic (UK) was established by the pioneers of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and since the birth of the first ‘test-tube’ baby in 1978 over six million babies have been born worldwide following IVF treatment.

The new Zhoushan Clinic is the latest to be established by Bourn Hall China. Its first fertility clinic, opened in Kunming in 2014, has just completed its first full year of operation with success rates equivalent to those achieved in the UK. A second clinic is being established in Chongqing and a third is planned for Hangzhou. A Shanghai clinic with a capacity for 10,000 cycles of IVF per year is also planned.

The agreement is to be signed by Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall Limited, on behalf of Bourn Hall China, and Li Chen, Dean of Zhoushan Maternal and Children’s Health Hospital.

Dr Macnamee says: “We are delighted to be working with Zhoushan Maternal and Children’s Health Hospital to offer this new fertility service to their patients.

“By establishing these clinics, Bourn Hall China is making world-class IVF treatment available within China and is building local capacity and skills in IVF and reproductive medicine. The clinicians and embryologists are trained by a Bourn Hall team with over 35 years of experience of IVF.

“The clinics will operate to the same protocols used within one of the most highly regulated health systems in the world, ensuring the highest standards of quality and patient care.”

The Business Breakfast and signing will be in the presence of Jeremy Hunt, UK Secretary of State; Deborah Kobewka, MD of Healthcare UK; Kevin Holland, Minister-Counsellor for Lifescience and Healthcare at the British Embassy China; and Joanna Roper, Acting Director General for Department for International Trade China.

Fertility Fayre supports National Fertility Awareness week – how to get “fertility fit”

Bourn Hall is emphasizing the importance of getting good advice as part of National Fertility Awareness Week, from 31st October – 5th November.

Dr Nikolaos Polydoropoulos, Fertility Specialist and Lead Clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic Cambridge, says: “There are many reasons for recurrent miscarriage and still much we don’t know, but getting you and your partner fertility fit is really important. As an overall figure, 80% of couples will become pregnant within two years, but as fertility decreases with female age, he suggests if you have been trying for longer than a year then you should seek advice.”

When Donna was 21 the couple were pleasantly surprised when they found out that she was unexpectedly pregnant. “I was nervous but happy; we hadn’t been trying for a baby at that point,” she reveals. “Then at six and a half weeks I miscarried and I surprised myself at how upset I was.

“I had been to see my GP after my first miscarriage but was told that it was something which was pretty common,” continues Donna. “But after my fourth miscarriage I went back because something was clearly wrong. I am someone who doesn’t dwell on things and tries to keep strong but without realising it I had become really affected and it had put a strain on both of us.”

She was referred to hospital and the consultant urged her to make some serious lifestyle changes.

“I had been smoking since I was 12,” confesses Donna, “and I was carrying too much weight. I suddenly realised that if I really wanted a baby I was going to have to do something about it and a new-found determination really kicked in.”

Within a week Donna successfully quit smoking and over the course of the next year she lost two stone in weight.

“My eating habits had not been healthy,” says Donna. “I didn’t actually eat very much but I sometimes went all day without eating anything and would then have a heavy meal or takeaway in the evening. My body was then storing up all the fat I put into it late at night. I joined a slimming group and realised that it was better to eat far more regularly and that jacket potatoes and pasta were just fine. I ate more than I had ever eaten before, lost weight and never felt hungry!”

When Donna went to see her GP a year later the results of her lifestyle changes were evident: “Ideally I should have got my BMI down to 30 but it was 31 and the GP could see how much effort I had put in so he referred me back to hospital.

“The consultant at Hinchingbrooke was really pleased with my progress and referred me for fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.”

It was then that an ultrasound picked up that Donna had possible signs of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), although she had not experienced any of the classic symptoms.

PCOS affects about 1 in 5 of women and is a common cause of infertility. PCOS can cause weight gain and women with the condition who are obese have an additional risk while pregnant of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and miscarriage.

Other common symptoms can include irregular or absent periods, acne and mood swings, but many women don’t have any symptoms. If left untreated and unmanaged this can lead to further health complications such as heart disease and diabetes so early diagnosis is beneficial.

It is thought that the hormones that control ovulation are disrupted in women with PCOS. The mature egg is not released from the ovary each month but instead remains trapped on the surface. When the ovaries are scanned these ‘bumps’ can be seen quite clearly, giving PCOS its name (although to be accurate the ‘cysts’ are actually trapped follicles).

Over 50 per cent of women diagnosed with PCOS are overweight or obese, says Dr Polydoropoulos: “Studies have shown that a six-month managed weight loss diet for women with a BMI of 29 or over is particularly successful for kick-starting ovulation.”

In a study by University Medical Centre in Groningen, women lost 4.4kg on average and 28% of the women whose ovulation was restored after weight loss became pregnant.

Dr Polydoropoulos explains that a fertility test is used to diagnose PCOS: “It is possible to scan the ovaries to check for trapped follicles and also to test the levels of hormones that are important in ovulation and egg supply.

“Making some lifestyle changes, such as eating a more healthy diet and exercising, can really boost natural fertility. There are also drugs, such as Metformin, that can lower glucose and insulin levels,”

Bourn Hall is hosting a Fertility Fayre on 5th November, which will bring together a range of experts to help provide this support.

If weight loss or medication fails to boost ovulation, IVF can help if the woman’s BMI is less than 35. Fertility drugs stimulate the ovaries into producing a number of eggs, which are collected, fertilised outside the body and the resulting embryo transferred to the womb.

Donna remembers the agonising two-week wait to see if she was pregnant.

“When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive it felt like everything I had ever wanted,” says Donna, “but then panic set in and I worried that the pregnancy wouldn’t last.”

Donna opted to have some extra scans at Bourn Hall during her pregnancy for reassurance that the pregnancy was going to plan. “The 4D scan was fantastic; we saw the baby moving around and holding his hands up to his face. He was a real baby and reality really hit,” laughs Donna.

Baby Ronnie was born after a 25-hour labour and he spent three days in the special care baby unit after a forceps delivery. “When I was told after day three that we could take Ronnie home, that is when everything hit me and I completely broke down,” says Donna.

“His birth had all been a bit dramatic and suddenly as we wheeled him out of the special care baby unit I thought ‘Oh my God, he’s my baby and we are taking him home!’ – I started bawling my eyes out!”

30-year old Donna still has to pinch herself. “I still look at him and cry sometimes,” she says. “I cannot believe he is mine. Now that I have got him he is a dream come true. Chris and I look at each other and say ‘We did it!’ We are so lucky the treatment worked first time.

“I can honestly say that Bourn Hall made our dreams come true. The staff there made us so welcome and were so wonderful; we owe them everything for the life we have now with Ronnie.”

To other couples Dr Polydoropoulos is encouraging: “If you and your partner need to lose some weight, then do it. Improve your nutrition, control alcohol intake and smoking and take gentle exercise – this is the best way to enhance fertility and it doesn’t require any medical intervention. Also seek professional advice early, as fertility testing will give you a clearer idea of any underlying issues and there are different treatment options to try. IVF is only required in a small number of cases, but success rates for those with PCOS are good.”

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting a Fertility Fayre on 5th November at the Cambridge Clinic just outside the city to coincide with Fertility Awareness Week. The Fayre will offer a range of wellbeing advice from health support groups as well medical advice on aspects of fertility and treatment.

Sources of help and advice about PCOS can also be found at www.verity-pcos.org.uk.

Fertility health + wellbeing check now arriving on Platform One

Many people do not realise that they had a problem with their fertility until they had been trying to conceive for some time. This is because many fertility issues – for example having a low or zero sperm count or blocked fallopian tubes – often have no other symptoms that would have lead to an earlier diagnosis.

In other cases, they may already have suspicions that a health-issue from their childhood or early adulthood may have had an impact on their fertility (for example, treatment for an un-descended testicle or irregular periods), but it isn’t until they try to conceive that their suspicions are confirmed.

Dr Thomas Mathews, UK Medical Director at Bourn Hallexplains that a ‘fertility health + wellbeing check’ can help provide reassurance and potentially boost a person’s chances of success. He says: “Over 80 per cent of couples will conceive naturally within 12 months of trying for a baby, however, we all know that fertility does decline with age and egg quality drops dramatically after the age of 35.

“This means that for those individuals who do have an underlying fertility issue, uncovering this issue as early as possible may allow them to maximise their chances of success.”

Bourn Hall has put together two different packages (known as the mini fertility check and the full fertility check) that can provide detailed information about current fertility levels.

The mini fertility check includes a medical consultation along with a semen analysis, AMH blood test and pelvic ultrasound. The full fertility check also includes additional blood tests and procedures such as a HyCoSy, which is used to determine the health of the fallopian tubes (tubal patency).

Not all of those with a fertility concern will require fertility treatment and the check also includes questions about their wider health and lifestyle.  Dr Mathews says: “There may be lifestyle advice we can offer to help improve someone’s chance of becoming a parent without the need for fertility treatment.”

“If, however, the tests reveal an underlying fertility issue such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, where small cysts are visible in the ovaries, or a blockage in the man’s reproductive system that is preventing sperm from reaching the epididymis, then treating this early may allow people to maximise their chances of success.”

The mini test (£400) includes a semen analysis, an anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test to measure the woman’s ovarian reserve, a pelvic ultrasound scan and a medical consultancy to explain the results.

Other assessments, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test, are available on an individual basis. If you have a previous medical history that might impact your fertility, it might be that a different combination of tests might be more suitable.

Details of our fertility health + wellbeing check are available on the website.

Five fertility questions to ask your GP

This is one of the early findings of “Fertility Journey” research commissioned by Bourn Hall Clinic in partnership with the British Infertility Counselling Association.  The Healthwatch organisation have helped to promote the survey through their regional networks across the East of England.

Initial findings from the research indicate that, contrary to popular belief, couples are not leaving it too late to seek advice, but instead are frequently told by GPs they are “too young to have a problem and should try for longer” – and this may be compromising their chances of success.

GPs can’t be expected to be experts in all areas. Dr Arpita Ray, lead clinician at Bourn Hall’s Colchester Clinic says: “It is well known that fertility declines with age but there are many other causes. Common reasons for infertility such as blocked fallopian tubes or low sperm count won’t be improved by waiting, so it is important that these conditions are addressed to maximise the chance of conception.

“We are concerned by these initial findings and want more people to complete the survey so that it is more representative.”

Time is often used as a key indicator of a fertility issue. According to data from the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), on average 80% of couples will get pregnant within a year if they have sexual intercourse every two to three days and do not use contraception, so couples that are unsuccessful after two years should seek help.

However the “Fertility Journey” feedback suggests that for many younger couples the fertility testing – which might reveal the medical cause for their infertility – was often delayed for several years due to confusion over how long to wait before referral. This may be because GPs are using the time couples say they have been ‘trying for a baby’ as an indication of the length of infertility. However most couples have had unprotected sex for several years before they start to get concerned and the vast majority of those that later go on to have IVF say they knew they were infertile before they were 30.

Anything that may delay seeking help is concerning to fertility experts. There are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted if the condition is recognised early, including taking nutritional supplements to increase sperm quality, drugs to stimulate ovulation, and minor operations to restore fertility.

In response to these early findings, Dr Ray suggests those experiencing infertility should explore with their GP a number of questions such as the following:

1. We have been together for three years without using contraception and have been trying for a baby for one year – is there a difficulty? (The answer is most likely yes; most couples wrongly consider the period of ‘trying hard’ as the duration of infertility and may not give their previous history.)

2. If all our tests are normal, is it possible we may still need fertility treatment? (The answer may be yes; the causes for one third of all cases of infertility are unexplained.)

3. If I delay getting treatment now will my egg store decrease? (Perhaps; the basic tests may not include ovarian reserve testing, which is an indication of egg store, and even if tests indicate that the egg store is good it does not predict future fertility.)

4. If my sperm analysis is poor is there anything I could do to improve the situation? (Potentially; lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol and enhancing nutrition with selected supplements can improve sperm quality.)

5. I am 42 years old, fit, healthy and ovulating every month, so should I be reassured about my fertility? (The answer is no; although it is possible to get pregnant naturally at 40 the egg store will have been decreasing rapidly since the age of 35. This doesn’t mean that IVF is necessary but fertility options should be discussed with a specialist.)

Reproductive medicine is still a relatively young field of medicine; until the 1970s the focus was on preventing pregnancy. It was really only after the success of Cambridge scientist Professor Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Mr Patrick Steptoe with the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978 that infertility was even considered a worthwhile research subject, so there is still much that is unknown.

The idea behind the “Fertility Journey” research is to gain anecdotal evidence from individuals and couples with infertility issues, which can then be used to inform new thinking on how to support them. For example, mental wellbeing is known to be important to fertility success so access to counselling is one of the areas being explored. More responses are required to build up a better understanding of how help can be given.

If you would like to contribute your experiences to the “Fertility Journey” research please do so; the survey is available at bit.ly/FertilitySurveyHW. It is anonymous but there is a chance to win a £50 John Lewis gift card as a thank you.

Bourn Hall to offer new 100% money back programme

Ash Carroll-Miller, CEO of Access Fertility, made the announcement to increase the upper age of the scheme and to increase the refund to 100 per cent to coincide with the company’s second birthday. He says:

“When I founded Access Fertility I wanted to help as many patients as possible access the treatment they need. Over the last two years we have helped thousands of patients save on the cost of IVF and reduce their financial risk via our discounted prices and refund programme.

“During that time, we’ve also listened to our patients and tried to understand how we can make our programmes even better.

“I’m pleased to say that we now have an exciting development to our refund programme that incorporates many of the requests that have been made by our patients: higher refund, fewer cycles and overall lower costs.”

Bourn Hall has found that the approach to finance offered by Access Fertility is popular with patients. The funding options are easy to understand and offer a more cost-effective option than the alternative ‘pay as you go’ option.

80 per cent of Bourn Hall’s patients have a baby within three cycles of treatment; now with the prepayment scheme those that aren’t successful will be refunded for their treatment costs.

Ash continues: “Our original refund programme was for patients under the age of 38 and came with a 70% refund. So far we have returned well over £500,000 to patients who have not had success in their treatment, money they would otherwise have lost.

“It’s always been our ambition to increase the refund percentage and now we are able to offer the programme to patients of up to 40 years of age.”

New features

  • 50%, 70% and 100% refund available on the three cycle programme
  • Patients aged 38-39 will now be able to access a 50% refund programme
  • Brand new two-cycle refund programme with a 50% refund

View details about the packages from Access Fertility here, or you can talk things through with a member of their team from Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm on 01865 801000.

Cambridge to cut NHS funding for IVF

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall Clinic, says he is deeply saddened by the news, which will be devastating to many couples. He says: “Infertility is an eminently treatable medical condition for which there are treatments available, and success rates are improving all the time. Cutting funding will make it difficult for couples to access the level of support that they need.

“Having a family is core to most people’s lives, with each milestone that a child reaches being a cause of joy and celebration. Not being able to have a much-wanted child creates deep emotional distress and relationship breakdown.

“We would like to reassure patients that have already been referred for funded treatment that they will not be affected by this change, which came into effect on 2nd June.

“Cambridge and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will be engaging in a public consultation in the near future with the likely outcome that the provision will be withdrawn entirely as this has proven to be the case with other CCGs in the region.”

NICE guidelines, which were adopted by the East of England Fertility Services Consortium in December 2015, recommend three cycles of treatment to give the optimum chance of success. 90% of NHS patients treated at Bourn Hall give birth when given access to this level of treatment.

Dr Macnamee continues: “Offering just one cycle of funded treatment puts considerable pressure on couples who are already stressed. We have found that the highest rates of success come when patients are offered several chances; this allows them to relax and as a result a high proportion do become pregnant on the first attempt.”

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG is a member of the East of England Fertility Services Consortium, which is responsible for the commissioning of fertility services.

In December 2015, after considerable consultation with the medical community, the Consortium agreed its policy: that couples meeting the stringent eligibility criteria would be entitled to three fresh cycles of IVF and a maximum of six (fresh or frozen) embryo transfers.

This treatment is considered best practice by NICE and 9 out of 10 NHS patients treated at Bourn Hall Clinic take home a baby when this protocol is applied.

The Consortium selected five providers to deliver this service through a competitive tendering process, and the providers were selected on quality of treatment, track record of success and cost effectiveness. Bourn Hall is the only provider of NHS-funded IVF to be based in the region.

Although Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG adopted the Consortium policy in principle, the CCGs are allowed local variations. It therefore opted to offer couples only two cycles of assisted conception (instead of the recommended three) and are now cutting this to just one cycle with no guarantee that this will continue.

Bourn Hall provides NHS and self-funded fertility and IVF treatments. To facilitate access to treatment Bourn Hall has introduced free IVF treatment for sperm and egg donors, a range of payment plans that offer money-back guarantees, and most recently the ‘Gift of Giving’ programme where an egg or sperm donor not seeking treatment themselves can nominate a couple to receive free IVF treatment.

It was Cambridge scientist Robert Edwards who co-founded Bourn Hall after he and Patrick Steptoe produced the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby. IVF specialists now operating worldwide were trained at the clinic, resulting in over 5.5m IVF babies around the world. This legacy makes it particularly sad that the local CCG is making this decision.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou promoted to Lead Clinician for our clinics in Norfolk

He is now stepping down to enjoy semi-retirement and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou – who is already working full-time at the clinic – has been promoted to Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall’s Norfolk clinics, which includes the new satellite clinic in King’s Lynn.

The 2015 success rates for the Norfolk clinics are excellent and show that 56% of patients under the age of 37 enjoy an ongoing pregnancy following blastocyst (five day embryo) transfer.

Dr Mike Macnamee, Chief Executive of Bourn Hall, says: “Our Norfolk fertility service has flourished under the guidance of Dr Al-Taher and we are delighted with his achievements and those of the team, first at Wymondham and now also at King’s Lynn. We would like to thank him for his sterling efforts and are delighted that he will be continuing his good work at the King’s Lynn satellite clinic.

“It is with equal pleasure that I congratulate Dr Papathanasiou on his promotion. He has been very well received by the staff and patients and is a popular choice for the position. In addition to his significant clinical experience he also brings a strong research background and I am sure he will continue Bourn Hall’s pioneering tradition.”

Dr Papathanasiou says he is looking forward to taking up the helm in Norfolk: “It is a great honour to be working with such a dedicated team and to be achieving consistently high results for our patients.”

There is still much to do and Dr Papathanasiou sees opportunities to further develop the current service. He says: “Our recently expanded fertility service now allows GPs to directly refer couples to us for fertility investigations and management. As soon as the investigations are complete, couples can fully explore their fertility options, taking onboard advice from a fertility expert. This allows us to provide a consistent, high quality service during all stages of the fertility journey.”

Dr Papathanasiou is also keen to stress that there are no waiting times for fertility investigations. Once a patient has been referred by their GP, they can have the tests done within one menstrual cycle.

He continues: “In addition to my work with patients, my particular research interest is about how to improve success rates for women who respond poorly to ovarian stimulation. These women tend to self-fund their treatments, as they often fall outside the criteria for NHS funding.

“Abnormal ovarian reserve tests (high follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels or low anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) levels) in women of fertile age may indicate fertility or hormonal problems that stem from low egg stores; however, I think there is still much that can be done for these women to greatly improve their chances of success.”

Dr Papathanasiou has published high-impact work on this subject, including the recent paper “Trends in ‘poor responder’ research: lessons learned from RCTs in assisted conception”, and has been involved in a relevant Cochrane Review, which advises on best clinical practice.

He says: “There is still much to understand about human reproduction; we are redefining the frontiers all the time and this will provide new opportunities for treatment. I am keen to keep at the forefront of the scientific knowledge and, where possible, take the most promising developments and introduce them into clinical practice, so that patients can gain early benefit from this.”

Frozen embryo twin’s adventure to the South Pole

Jamie Facer-Childs (28), one of the first frozen embryo twins in the world, plans to make history again as part of the first British team to ski unsupported and unassisted across the freezing cold South Pole. His proud mum Rosemary Facer attended the expedition launch at Westminster Palace along with Dawn Course of Bourn Hall to show their support for Jamie’s next freezing adventure.

In 1986 and longing to have a family Rosemary Facer heard on the radio a discussion about Bourn Hall’s pioneering work. She says: “At the time I went to Bourn Hall Clinic their new freezing technique was a kind of adventure – an unknown territory in the field of IVF.

“We were seen by Patrick Steptoe and with the help of his wonderful staff my twin boys were born in 1987. We were so proud of Jamie and his brother Ben then and still are today. Jamie’s always been an adventurous type – at 21 he rowed the Indian Ocean – and now he’s involved in this amazing trip.”

Jamie was one of the first 1000 babies born as a result of IVF treatment at Bourn Hall. Dawn Course, Business Services Director for Bourn Hall says: “When Jamie told us about his latest remarkable endeavour, to reach the South Pole and raise a flag for Bourn Hall, we felt honoured to be a part of his adventure.”

Jamie and five other Army Reserve soldiers will in total journey 1,100 miles; each hauling a sled weighing around 150kg and in temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius. All in an attempt to enter the history books as the first British team to achieve a full transverse on foot and to raise £100,000 for the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity (formerly the Army Benevolent Fund).

Jamie explains how he came to be involved in this expedition: “I have been serving in the UK Army Reserves for the past four years to fund myself through medical school and since the Ocean Rowing Race in 2009 – crossing the Indian Ocean as part of a two man rowing team – it has helped satisfy my ongoing love for adventure and challenges.

“In many ways being an IVF baby gives me a drive to push myself to extremes. So when I heard about the expedition to Antarctica last year I immediately asked the leader Louis Rudd if I could attend and luckily I was selected.”

To launch ‘South Pole Expedition Army Reserves 2017’ (Spear17) an event was recently held at Westminster Palace. Defence Minister Julian Brazier MP, whose son Doctor Alex Brazier is part of the team, commented: ”This is a really remarkable endeavour, only six people have managed what they are trying to do before and I am very proud that my son is involved. Most importantly this expedition sends a really clear message about what the Army Reserves can achieve.”

The six man team will start on the Antarctica coastline in November aiming to reach the South Pole in the middle of January and to raise a flag for Bourn Hall before continuing on.

Rosemary concludes: “Thanks to Bourn Hall I have three wonderful children: Jamie, his twin Ben, and their younger sister Elise. They are all doing amazing things and I’m so proud of them.”

To learn more about the Antarctic expedition visit www.justgiving.com/spear17 or to donate visit: www.justgiving.com/spear17 and for more information on embryo freezing see our website.

If you have been inspired by Jamie’s story and would like to know more about how you could help someone become a parent visit our donor site.

[Pictured: Bourn Hall’s Business Support Services Director Dawn Course with Jamie Facer-Childs at the launch event]

Donors can nominate a friend for free IVF treatment

The UK has a shortage of donated sperm and the research revealed that the biggest motivator for donating was knowing someone that was having a problem conceiving, so for the first time sperm donors (and egg donors) will be able to nominate a friend or family member to receive free IVF treatment.

Dr Mike Macnamee, Chief Executive of Bourn Hall, comments: “We were the first clinic to introduce sperm freezing and we have our own sperm bank but demand is rising and there is a national shortage.  There are also patients who need donated eggs and we have created a new website specifically aimed at attracting egg and sperm donors and providing them with all the information they need.

“When a couple comes to the clinic for treatment and testing reveals that a man has ‘super sperm’ then we offer them free IVF treatment in return for sperm donation.

“The recent study has indicated that altruism is a powerful motivator so we have decided to extend this offer to allow donors not requiring help themselves to nominate someone they know for free IVF treatment. If this treatment requires donated sperm this will be provided from an anonymous donor.”

Sperm donation through clinics is strictly regulated in the UK to ensure potential donors are fully aware of the implications and only high quality sperm is accepted. Donors should be in good health and aged 18-40.

The study showed that the second biggest motivator was to be paid, so those not taking up free IVF treatment will receive £35 compensation for each sample.

The clinic has also introduced a dedicated phone number to make it easy for men to make appointments when it suits them. Bourn Hall has full service clinics in Bourn, near Cambridge, in Colchester and near Norwich, which are all easily accessible with ample free parking so it’s easy to make a contribution discreetly without going to main reception.

The attitudes study also revealed that men considered carefully the opinion of their partner and over a third thought their partner wouldn’t want them to donate. This was particularly high where the couple themselves had problems conceiving. However this influence could be positive too with 31% saying they would donate if their partner wanted them to.

Dr Macnamee comments: “Donors have no legal or moral obligation to children resulting from donation, however, we have found that men who are prepared to donate are often relaxed about the thought of a young man or woman that they have helped bring into the world, later getting in touch. They feel it is a way they can make a big difference to someone else’s life.

All the men who participated in the study were aware that their donation is anonymous until any offspring resulting from their donation are aged 18, when they can request details of the donor.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has confirmed that donors can express a preference on how they want to be contacted and it will inform them if a child had requested their details. It also encourages donor-conceived children to take up the offer of using an intermediary and provides support to donors.

Jackie Stewart is an independent fertility counsellor who supports Bourn Hall patients and she says the findings of the study have important implications for couples struggling with infertility.

“The majority of men have not even considered donating sperm and may think they are too old, however many would try and help if someone they knew was struggling to conceive.

“With this knowledge it is good to talk about your situation with close friends and family and also to explain how much a baby would mean to you. There may be someone in your wider circle of friends and family that is in a position to offer help and would find it rewarding to do so.

“Potential donors receive free implications counselling and can prepare a ‘pen picture’ of themselves and a note for the child to receive if they want to request it.”

She stresses that transparency is important: “All recipients of donated sperm also receive counselling and that includes a discussion on how to talk to their future children about the subject. This means that children are emotionally prepared and although they may be curious about the donor they accept that this person is not their parent.”

Jackie continues: “For many men sperm donation is something special they are doing and the joy it gives to the recipients is beyond words.”

Egg donors will also be able to nominate a friend or family member for free IVF treatment and pass on the benefit of the treatment they could have accessed for free if they had needed IVF themselves.

If you are interested in donating please visit our donor website or simply call 01954 717521.

Latest developments at our Norfolk IVF clinic

Dr Hamed Al-Taher, Lead Clinician at the Wymondham-based IVF clinic, is delighted with the new figures: “Over the last 12 months, 56% of our patients under 37 became pregnant, compared to the national average of 47% (http://www.hfea.gov.uk/docs/HFEA_Fertility_Trends_and_Figures_2013.pdf p28). This is very good news for our patients and staff.”

One of the major factors influencing the improving success rates is the increased use of ‘blastocyst transfer’, which happens when the embryo is five days old.

Naturally, the embryo takes about five days to travel from the ovary down the fallopian tube, so it would have reached blastocyst stage just as it reaches the womb. This is when the cells in the embryo will have divided rapidly and started to differentiate so they can become different parts of the baby and the placenta.

Blastocyst stage is reached during IVF treatment by allowing an embryo to develop in the incubator before it is transferred to the womb. Embryos that reach blastocyst stage are ready to implant in the womb and offer the highest chance of a successful pregnancy.

The embryos are closely observed to check which are dividing rapidly and likely to reach blastocyst. Not all embryos are able to do this and the decision might be made to transfer an embryo earlier. This embryo would still be capable of resulting in a healthy pregnancy.

In addition to manual observations, which require the embryos to be taken from the incubator for viewing, Bourn Hall has invested in some new incubators fitted with the Eeva system. This is a video capture system that images the embryos every few minutes and uses a special algorithm to calculate which embryos are most likely to reach blastocyst.

Dr Al-Taher says that each embryo is still observed by the embryologist but Eeva provides some additional benefits:

”In the lab we try to replicate as closely as possible the natural environment of the body. The big benefit of Eeva is that it allows us to monitor the embryos with very little disturbance. It also provides an objective assessment of the viability of the embryo which can be helpful when two embryos look identical or when an earlier transfer is required.”

For patients concerned about their egg quality and likely response to stimulation drugs, the AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) test, provided either as part of a suite of fertility tests or on its own, can provide some helpful information that can be used to advise about treatment options.

The AMH test gives an indication of the reserve pool of eggs left in the woman’s ovaries (not the exact number) and whether it would be worth attempting ovarian stimulation for egg collection and IVF.

Even if the AMH level is low, if other factors look good and the patient wants to try, then ovarian stimulation might still be possible, although it may be necessary to use a higher dose of drugs.

These are some of the types of options that are discussed as part of the initial consultation. Both NHS and self-funded patients can have all their fertility testing done at Bourn Hall, which means that they have continuity of care through every stage of their fertility journey.

To learn more about Eeva at Bourn Hall click here.

A baby “Bourn” every week

One baby a week is being born following IVF treatment at Bourn Hall’s Wickford Clinic.

The little clinic has just marked its 3rd birthday by announcing that it has achieved 120 pregnancies and that plans are progressing for its new building. Baby Jake Tompkins was one of the first 80 to be born.

The Wickford clinic is a little sister to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester and Fertility Nurse Specialist Grace Phiri explains that IVF treatment is intensive and the nursing team forms a close bond with the patients.

She says: “As a small team we see the patients on a regular basis which makes the work rewarding.

“Naturally a woman will produce one mature egg a month. With IVF treatment you need to stimulate the ovaries so they produce more eggs at one time that can be collected and fertilised to create embryos. This process needs careful regulation of the stimulation drugs and regular scans to check on progress. This requires many, short appointments so we get to know the patients really well,.

“I think for many people we are the only people that know they are having treatment.”

Patient Wayne Tompkins agrees: “With friends I never discussed any of the IVF process when we were going through it. It seemed to be difficult to bring up in conversation. I think it was hard enough going through it without having people knowing and asking how it was all going.”

Wayne and his wife Emma have been together since they were 17.

Wayne adds: “I have always wanted to be a dad, looking forward to when we had our own little family. So when we were told we had to go for fertility treatment it was a lot to take in. I was of course worried about what lay ahead for Emma and I, not really knowing what to expect. But once we had gone for our first consultation there seemed to be hope.”

The Wickford clinic was opened particularly to support patients in South West Essex based. They can have their consultations with a fertility specialist consultant, access to full time Fertility Nurse Specialists and appointments for blood tests and ultrasound scans locally at the satellite clinic and just go to Bourn Hall’s Colchester clinic for the egg collection and embryo transfer.

Wayne says: “All the way through the IVF treatment the staff at Bourn Hall were professional and friendly. They explained each stage of the process which helped ease my fears. I felt the best way to go through the process was to take each stage one at a time. I never wanted to look too far ahead in case things didn’t work out. I guess it was my way of coping.”

Emma agrees: “We took each step one at a time; never quite daring to believe that I might become pregnant.” Fortunately she did and Jake was born in November 2014.

Wayne adds; “I have waited a long time to become a dad, and now it has finally happened I couldn’t be happier. I love spending time all together as a family. I am looking to the future and all the adventures it will bring.”

Plans are being made for a new full service clinic in Wickford, which will be the only purpose built facility in South Essex to treat both NHS and self funded patients.

Nurse Phiri says: “We are really excited about the plans for the new clinic, which includes an embryology laboratory so we will be able to provide all the treatment for our fertility patients in one place.”

Design of the new clinic is based on nearly 40 years of experience in IVF and brp architects have been working closely with Bourn Hall to create a distinctive building with a welcoming interior that creates a sense of wellbeing and confidence alongside the highly specialised clinical treatment spaces.

Company director and project architect Alan Sankey enthused: “We have welcomed the opportunity and challenge of working alongside Bourn Hall and their development partners HPC, to create a first class facility. Wickford was earmarked as a natural location for expansion of Bourn Hall’s services, and although the chosen site has not been without it’s challenges, the finished building promises to be rewarding both architecturally and for all those who will use it.”

Bourn Hall Clinic is collaborating with a specialist provider of medical buildings – The Healthcare Property Company Limited (HPC) to oversee the development of the new facility and it will be issuing a tender shortly. It is planned that the new full service clinic will open in 2017.