New Endometriosis Fertility Service launched by Bourn Hall

Up to 50 percent of women with subfertility have endometriosis, a painful condition where tissue that would normally line the womb starts to grow in other areas of the body. A comprehensive Endometriosis Fertility Service is being launched by Bourn Hall to provide specialist advice for those requiring fertility treatment – or fertility preservation ahead of surgery.

Endometriosis is a common condition affecting 5-10 percent of women of reproductive age. The symptoms include heavy and painful periods, bowel and urinary symptoms and chronic pelvic pain. It may significantly impact daily life and fertility.

The condition can cause scarring and adhesions, leading to tubal blockage and changes to the pelvic anatomy which may affect fertility. In some cases, large cysts – known as endometriomas (or ‘chocolate cysts’) – may form in the ovaries, damaging the ovarian tissue.

Recognising the complexity of managing both endometriosis and subfertility, Bourn Hall IVF consultant, Dr Shreeya Tewary, has brought her expertise in endometriosis and reproductive medicine to a new tailored service for those with the condition.

She explains that the new service will include a thorough assessment and discussion of the impact of endometriosis on fertility. “An integral feature is the ultrasound scan performed in the same consultation to assess the feasibility of IVF,” Dr Tewary says.

If surgery to drain the cysts or remove tissue is recommended to optimise IVF outcomes, this can be done through a GP referral to an NHS BSGE (The British Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy) accredited Endometriosis Centre, or via a seamless referral pathway to Cambridge EndoCare.

Cambridge EndoCare is a BSGE accredited Endometriosis Centre established recently by Professor Mohamed Mabrouk, a recognised international expert in the field of endometriosis, surgical anatomy, and minimally invasive surgery. Dr Tewary has worked collaboratively with Professor Mabrouk for many years, and this understanding will help streamline the co-ordination of care between specialists.

“We recognise the challenges that can occur in coordinating care between fertility and endometriosis specialists”, says Dr Tewary. “Bourn Hall’s Endometriosis Fertility Service will provide a seamless and efficient pathway to specialised care.”

Patients may also be referred from Cambridge EndoCare to Bourn Hall to explore fertility preservation options before they undergo excision surgery for endometriosis.

Find out more about Bourn Hall’s Endometriosis Clinic here.

Egg freezing offers the potential of fertility preservation

A new documentary on BBC iPlayer, Egg Freezing and Me, highlights how egg freezing is one of the fastest growing treatments in the UK and shows some of the moving reasons why some people might opt to do it. Bourn Hall Clinic was pleased to be featured in the programme and, as a clinic which prides itself on being fully transparent with our patients, supports the calls for all clinics to do the same.

Irrespective of whether a woman is freezing her eggs for medical or social reasons, the age at which she does so is the most important factor affecting her chances of eventually having a baby. The optimum window to freeze is before she reaches 35. This is because after the age of 35 the eggs may be of poorer quality and there is a greater risk of miscarriage.

There are many situations where a woman might choose to freeze her eggs. These include: genetic conditions where a woman may be unable to carry a pregnancy; ahead of chemotherapy, a process that can reduce the quality of eggs and may cause a reduction in ovarian reserve; before a surgical procedure that may damage the ovaries, or where there is a family history of premature ovarian failure.

Fertility preservation is also a viable choice for transgender patients before undergoing gender reassignment treatment, offering the possibility of having genetically related children in the future.

Bourn Hall’s egg banks are also available for social freezing purposes in situations where starting a family immediately is not feasible or desired.

When required for fertility treatment, the eggs are thawed and inseminated with sperm (either her partner’s or donor sperm) and one of the resulting embryos will be transferred using the same procedure as in a conventional IVF embryo transfer.

It is difficult to give success rates for the use of frozen eggs for IVF treatment as it is still an option selected by a relatively small sample of women. There is also a risk that not all of the eggs will thaw successfully or fertilise to create embryos.

Dr Sharleen Hapuarachi, Consultant Gynaecologist at Bourn Hall Clinic who features in the documentary says:

“Egg freezing is not an absolute guarantee which is what I am sure some clinics are ‘selling’ it as. By no means would I want to suggest to someone who is thinking about pregnancy to delay it, because we all know the earlier you become pregnant, in your twenties, early thirties, is the safest way to do it.

“Egg freezing for some women can be empowering and our advice would be that if freezing your eggs is something you would like to explore then don’t leave it too late if you want to maximise your chances of success. We will support you in your journey.”

Bourn Hall offers a fully transparent and individualised approach to the options and treatments available. All our patients are offered counselling to help them consider all the implications of their decisions.

For more information, please contact us.

Bourn Hall and Fertility Network UK join forces to help more employers implement ‘fertility fairness’

Bourn Hall Clinic is joining forces with the UK’s national fertility charity, Fertility Network UK, on their Fertility in the Workplace (FiTW) initiative, which helps firms support staff experiencing fertility struggles.

Claire Heuclin
Claire Heuclin

“One in six people have difficulties conceiving, and all are of working age. Infertility impacts both partners and can create devastating effects on all areas of their lives,” said Claire Heuclin, Fertility Network UK’s FiTW coordinator. “We are delighted Bourn Hall is partnering with us on our Fertility in the Workplace initiative.”

A recent survey by Fertility Network and Fertifa showed that nearly eight out of ten (78%) people, who have experienced fertility issues, said that fertility support or a fertility policy was very important when they were considering a new job or employer.

Flexibility to attend appointments and promoting greater understanding of what fertility treatment involves are two practical ways in which a fertility policy can help employers provide a more supportive working environment and retain staff.

“If employers and managers are aware of what fertility treatments involve and what the outcomes can look like, they can better understand the associated stress and can create safe spaces for staff to talk in confidence,” Claire continued.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall, said:

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

“Many people have little knowledge of infertility or how it is treated. As a fertility clinic we can bring this clinical knowledge to FiTW and we are deeply committed to supporting Fertility Network UK in delivering this programme.

“While it is important for employers to make adjustments to support their staff, there is also a role for fertility clinics to be more supportive of people balancing treatment with work – so patients can keep ‘under the radar’ and not disclose their treatment if they wish, or by recognising the need for more flexible appointment and protocols in order to minimise the impact on a patient’s working day.

“We talk to patients who don’t want to jeopardise their careers, so they are trying to make appointments and inject hormone medication in secret – all the while balancing a rollercoaster of emotions from hope to despair.

“Additionally, some types of work can evoke emotional triggers. We see patients in professions such as teaching, midwifery, and the police where they work closely with children, often in distressing situations – and their managers have no knowledge of their personal trauma.”

The Fertility in the Workplace initiative provides education and support packages to employers to help them develop pragmatic fertility policies that work for them and their staff, as well as providing effective signposting and wellbeing support.

It also offers 1:1 support to employees so that they understand their workplace rights and how to approach their employer.

Until March 2025, thanks to funding from the Department of Health, these support packages are provided free of charge to small and medium enterprises across England.

Fertility Network UK is also part of the Workplace Fertility Campaign Group convened by MP Nickie Aiken.

Nickie Aiken will be hosting a drop-in event for MPs on March 13th at Westminster, to raise awareness of the Fertility Workplace Pledge, alongside her Private Members’ Bill, Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill, which would give employees a legal right to take time off for fertility appointments.

This event provides an opportunity for MPs to discuss this area of wellbeing at work. Dr Papathanasiou is attending to provide insight into the clinical side of fertility treatments and Bourn Hall’s work with FiTW.

Claire Heuclin with Thanos at MP drop-in event
Claire Heuclin with Thanos Papathanasiou at the MP drop-in event at Westminster

“Any awareness that can be raised amongst employers is a good thing”

Kelly resigned before embarking on IVF
Kelly resigned before embarking on IVF

Kelly felt so pressured to prioritise work over her recovery from her third loss from an ectopic pregnancy that ultimately, she took the drastic step to resign before embarking on IVF.

“Any awareness that can be raised amongst employers is a good thing,” she says. “There are simple things that employers can do such as allowing time off for an appointment and encouraging people with new babies to give a heads-up before they come in. And it is being supportive of the logistics so for example a woman cannot drive for 24 hours after egg collection and shouldn’t be left on their own so it is factoring that in that they wouldn’t be able to drive to their office the next day and that their partner might need to work from home or be off work to be with them.

“I think what Fertility Network are doing to raise awareness of fertility in the workplace and supporting both employers and employees is fantastic. I didn’t know about it at the time and it would have been really handy to give my boss some information so that he understood the process more and what support I might need.”

Read about Kelly’s fertility journey.

“We all have a role to play in being more ‘mindful’ about colleagues’ fertility struggles”

Carlene was entitled to paid time off for attending appointments
Carlene was entitled to paid time off for attending appointments

Carlene, who is a civil servant, and her husband had been trying for a baby for five years when they were told they would need fertility treatment.

“I was entitled to paid time off for attending appointments, scans and the IVF itself and that really helped with taking some of the stress off for me,” she says.  “My boss was really understanding and supportive.

“Bourn Hall gave me a schedule for my treatment so that worked well for planning around work as well.

Carlene feels that it is not just employers and managers who have a role to play in making workplaces more ‘fertility aware’:

“When we were going through our fertility struggles I would get ‘triggered’ by everything,” says Carlene. “I think we all have a role to play in being more aware and ‘mindful’ at work about the struggles that some people might be having. Something, such as a colleague bringing their new baby in to the office could be really upsetting for someone who might have experienced a miscarriage or had fertility issues.”

Read Carlene’s story.

For more information about Fertility in the Workplace visit

London hospital and Sheffield clinic affected by faulty freezing solution

We understand that the recent news articles relating to concerns over the integrity of frozen eggs and embryos at other fertility clinics may be unsettling for you.

We want to reassure you that Bourn Hall has never used the same freezing solution (media) involved in this incident, and all our clinics remain entirely unaffected by this issue.

Your peace of mind is our priority, and we want to assure you that Bourn Hall is not impacted by this issue.

The latest comment on this from the HFEA can be read here.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Bourn Hall has never used the same freezing solution (media) used in these incidents
  • All our clinics remain entirely unaffected by this issue
  • There is no risk to any Bourn Hall patient
  • We remain committed to providing unwavering support and care

Thank you for entrusting us with your journey. If you have any questions or need further assistance, we’re here for you every step of the way.

Please contact your clinic team if you have any further questions.

Increase in egg donors brings glad tidings for patients

“I don’t think you can quite put into words the amount of gratitude that I feel for my egg donor,” says Elle*, who discovered aged 17 that she had very few eggs and would struggle to conceive. “Egg donation is an incredibly selfless act for someone they don’t know.”

Elle’s baby is the first to be born since Bourn Hall’s dedicated donor team was set up earlier this year. She popped into our Cambridge clinic to show the team the results of their work and share some Christmas cheer.

A national shortage of donated eggs had meant a long wait for some women, so Bourn Hall put out an appeal for more donors last Christmas. Following a good response, the clinic set up a dedicated and committed team to focus on encouraging more sperm and egg donors and supporting potential recipients.

Rise in egg donors

Through their actions, the team has seen a sharp rise in enquiries from women wanting to donate their eggs, with many saying that they wanted to give something back after completing their own families.

As a result, a record 25 couples have been given the chance of a baby since August.

The donor team is headed by fertility consultant Dr Valentina Mauro and supported by a team including Katie Warburton, Patient support specialist and egg donor coordinator, who keeps close contact with patients on the waiting list.

“Our egg donors are very special women indeed,” says Katie. “What they do is truly amazing. It is a wonderful feeling to tell someone on the waiting list that we are able to match them with a donation. It has been brilliant to see such an increase in people coming forward to donate.

“I feel very privileged to be part of these amazing patients journey you get to build a relationship with both donors and recipients, and you become emotionally invested in their treatment”.

Incredibly lucky

Elle was diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency aged 17. Now married, she says she and her husband are “eternally grateful” to their altruistic egg donor.

“I really wanted to try and experience pregnancy and to feel a baby kicking in my tummy. It was wonderful that an egg donor gave me that chance.

“After the embryo transfer, we tried to remain positive but realistic at the same time, IVF isn’t guaranteed to work, but we were so incredibly lucky that it did, and that it worked first time. There are no words to describe what it felt like seeing that positive pregnancy test. It still makes me want to cry when I think about it now. We were in complete and utter shock!”

The team at Bourn Hall are happy to talk to anyone considering donation and provide a single point of contact throughout the process. Having a dedicated pathway means that donated eggs are swiftly matched with recipients.

To donate eggs, you need to be: aged 18-35; in good health with no family history of hereditary illnesses or diseases; a non-smoker; and have a BMI of between 18-30.

For further information visit our egg donation page.

The Bourn Hall donor team
The Bourn Hall donor team: Joe Rumball, Katie Warburton, Dr Valentina Mauro, Julie Middlemas

*name changed for confidentiality.

[top image shows Katie Warburton and Julie Middlemas from Bourn Hall’s donor team celebrating their first arrival]

First ‘test-tube’ baby meets Bourn Hall babies to celebrate 5 years at Essex clinic

An IVF baby for each of the years that Bourn Hall’s Essex clinic has been open came to celebrate the clinic’s 5th anniversary with the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown. Louise is always delighted to meet families created by IVF.

“The pioneering team that brought about my birth in 1978 gave hope to infertile couples all over the world,” said Louise. “There are now more than 12 million IVF babies in the world.

“By founding Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe started methods that are now used worldwide.

“It is very special to be part of the fifth anniversary of Bourn Hall in Wickford and I enjoyed meeting some of the babies that have brought joy to Essex families in the last five years.”

Making families

Dr Arpita Ray, Lead Clinician of Bourn Hall Essex, says her motivation each day is to help her patients realise their dream of a baby. She says: “Our knowledge has increased significantly since those early days. We are now able to treat many different types of infertility and we are celebrating that today.”

Bourn Hall used its wealth of expertise to design a full-service clinic for Essex in Wickford. It opened in 2018 to provide a one-stop location for fertility advice, testing and treatment, and this year opened a new Miscarriage Clinic. The Wickford clinic is complemented by a satellite clinic in Colchester, so patients don’t need to travel far for appointments. The success rates are excellent: 54% of those that started treatment in 2022 now have a baby or ongoing pregnancy.

Don’t delay

Dr Ray continues: “I am also delighted that, from April 2023, all Essex couples who meet the NHS eligibility criteria are being given the chance of IVF fertility treatment. I hope this will encourage more people that want a child not to delay seeking advice and support.”

Louise agrees: “My mum and dad tried unsuccessfully for nine years to have a baby until the breakthrough experiment that led to my birth. They then went on to have my sister Natalie thanks to Bourn Hall. The challenges they faced those years ago are still the same as people going through a fertility journey today.”

Find out more about IVF in Essex and Bourn Hall’s Wickford clinic on our Clinics page, and read stories on our blog.

Arpita, Thanos and Louise Brown at Wickford's 5th birthday
Dr Arpita Ray and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director, celebrate the 5th birthday of Bourn Hall Wickford with Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby

Real Families – IVF’s role in the story of change

What is a family? Scientific innovations and societal acceptance of long suppressed identities and communities have brought far-reaching changes to the concept of family. A new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, ‘Real Families: Stories of Change’, asks us to consider what makes a family today, and the impact our families have on us, through the eyes of contemporary artists.

IVF has been pivotal in enabling some of these changes. The exhibition features one of the original glass desiccators – part of an early incubator of the type used by the IVF pioneers, Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards, and Jean Purdy, to conceive the world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown.

Story of change

Martyn Blayney, Director of Science at Bourn Hall, was trained as an embryologist by Professor Sir Robert Edwards. He has lent the desiccator (a sealable enclosure) to the museum.

He says: “Although IVF was developed primarily to help infertile women with blocked fallopian tubes, technological advances in all aspects of infertility treatment are enabling a greater diversity of people become biological parents.

“We have a wide range of techniques to overcome both male and female factor infertility and those requiring donated eggs and sperm.

“These advances are now enabling LGBTQ+ couples to create families in a way that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.”

Indeed, these societal changes are making the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, which first came into law in 1990, seem very out of date and a significant review is now underway.

The technology has also changed, particularly the incubators. Martyn says that it was important in the early days to have incubators where the embryologists could manually check and control the atmosphere in which embryos were cultured. “They are not in use these days as modern incubators are far more sophisticated and are able to do this automatically.”

Still making families

Whilst technology may have changed the fundamental motivation to help people have families remains the same for Martyn.

“The central doctrine of Professor Edwards’ teaching was to handle each embryo as if it were your own, a philosophy we still impart to our staff today,” he says. “The feeling and sense of achievement I feel today at the sight of a beautiful embryo evokes something in me that is as strong today as when I first started at Bourn Hall more than 30 years ago.”

Martyn Blayney with the desiccator at the Fitzwilliam Museum Real Families exhibition
Martyn Blayney with the desiccator at the Fitzwilliam Museum Real Families exhibition

Real Families: Stories of Change is free to visit at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until 7 January 2024. The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and features over 120 artworks including painting, photography, sculpture, film, and installation. For further information visit

Top image shows Louise Brown holding the desiccator at the launch of her autobiography at Bourn Hall in 2015.

Impact of the cost-of-living crisis highlighted by Fertility Network research

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on those living with the stress of infertility has been starkly highlighted in new research by Fertility Network UK, with half of survey respondents saying financial concerns were impacting their ability to move forward with fertility treatment.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, which were released at the start of Fertility Week, Dr Catherine Hill, Fertility Network UK’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs, said: “As the nation’s leading patient-focused fertility charity, we are appalled at the findings of our survey assessing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on fertility patients, and deeply concerned at the short and long-term impact on patients – physically, mentally, and financially.

“The toxic combination of cost-of-living price hikes and the lack of access to NHS-funded fertility treatment means many fertility patients are being priced out of the market and may never get the chance to become parents, with potentially serious repercussions for their mental health.”

Call to remove non-clinical barriers to funding

“With half of UK fertility patients unable to afford to move forward with fertility treatment and others considering potentially risky options to be able to access care, this is a crisis point for fertility patients and the sector. It is a scandal for the country that pioneered IVF over 45 years ago, and it is rooted in the lack of equitable access to NHS-funded fertility care and the continuing steep cost of private treatment in the UK.

“As Fertility Network UK celebrates 20 years of providing free and impartial information and support, we are also calling on the government to dismantle the cruel and unfair IVF postcode lottery and, as a first step, to honour the commitment it made in the Women’s Health Strategy in July 2022 to remove non-clinical barriers to access NHS-funded fertility treatment.”

Care for the fertility journey

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director at Bourn Hall, said that it was worrying to see on a national scale the extent that the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating health inequalities.

He says: “We know that infertility is a state of continuous uncertainty and without support this can lead to emotional exhaustion, when the thought of not being able to have a much longed-for child becomes all-consuming.

“The cost-of-living crisis will only exacerbate this, as the deepest root of all stress is fear – fear that treatment is not going to work, and fear that treatment will have to stop before it has a chance to work because of a lack of funding or finance.

Information is empowering

“We are talking to people struggling with infertility all the time and care passionately about helping them with their fertility journey – both physically and emotionally. Patients concerned about their treatment should talk to us – information is empowering and we want patients to feel more in control.

“The desired destination is to become pregnant and have a baby, but there is more than one way of getting there. We have a patient support team that is able to give personalised advice to make individuals aware of their options. Many do not know of the NHS support that is available as it is very fragmented and has recently changed.

“As a clinic we have also investigated different financing options for our self-funding patients and have relationships with a number of trusted partners.

Support for emotional wellbeing

“The concern that I share with my colleagues is for the emotional wellbeing of those with infertility, as dark thoughts can be isolating. Many patients talk of feeling disconnected from family and friends. It is therefore exceptionally important that those struggling with infertility don’t feel alone.

“We have independent fertility counsellors and offer free sessions as part of treatment, and there is an active fertility support group that is open to everyone to share experiences and gain comfort.

Hidden postcode lottery

“We share the concerns of Fertility Network UK over the postcode lottery for NHS funding, and although it is encouraging that all Integrated Care Boards are now offering some level of NHS-funding, there is inconsistency in this provision, particularly over the definition of a cycle of IVF, which creates a hidden postcode lottery.

“If there was consistent provision of a full cycle of IVF – transfer of all the embryos, including frozen as well as fresh, resulting from an egg collection – this would increase NHS success rates and reduce patient stress with minimal impact on budgets.”

Fertility Support Group meeting 8th November

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou will be talking about options and ways people can improve their fertility journey at Bourn Hall’s Fertility Support Group meeting on 8th November 2023. See more information about the Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group.

Fertility Week 2023 (30 October – 5 November), organised by Fertility Network UK, is a chance to talk about the impact of infertility and also to get the knowledge you need to regain control.  #forward4fertility. Read more about Fertility Week on our blog.

Netflix Announces Production of “Joy”

Film Tribute to Pioneers Behind the First IVF Baby and Bourn Hall Clinic

Netflix has announced the commencement of production on “Joy,” an inspiring film that goes beyond scientific milestones to uncover the remarkable human journey behind the birth of the world’s first in vitro fertilisation (IVF) baby, Louise Joy Brown.

Set against the backdrop of the late 1960s to 1970s, “Joy” sheds light on the relentless determination and innovative minds that defied societal norms, religious constraints, media scrutiny, and the medical establishment to rewrite the narrative of infertility.

This extraordinary tale revolves around the dynamic trio of Jean Purdy, a trailblazing nurse, scientist Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe. Their unwavering commitment and ground-breaking efforts culminated in the birth of the world’s first ‘test tube baby’– Louise Brown, who was born on 25 July 1978.

Jean Purdy, whose contribution often goes unsung, stood alongside Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, contributing significantly to the birth of IVF and transforming the field of reproductive medicine.-

Stellar cast and creative team

The film “Joy” boasts an impressive cast, with Thomasin McKenzie playing the role of Jean Purdy, the unsung laboratory assistant whose dedication and vision played a pivotal role. Bill Nighy takes on the role of Patrick Steptoe, the pioneering obstetrician and gynaecologist. Meanwhile, James Norton portrays Dr Robert Edwards, the British scientist awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 after a lifetime’s dedication to IVF.

Directed by BAFTA-nominated and Emmy-winning Ben Taylor, known for his work on “Sex Education” and “Catastrophe,” the film features a screenplay by the acclaimed BAFTA, Tony, and Emmy award-winning screenwriter and playwright, Jack Thorne, and his wife, Rachel Mason.

“Joy” is produced by Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey of Wildgaze, known for their work on Oscar-nominated films like “Brooklyn” and “An Education.” The film’s executive producer is Cameron McCracken for Pathe, whose credits include Oscar-winning films like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Judy.”

Ben Taylor, the director, said, “As the proud father to two boys only made possible by IVF, this is a story extremely close to my heart. It’s an honour to bring to life the journey of this heroic trio, whose world-changing work was only achieved in the face of unimaginable opposition.”

Jack Thorne added, “It took Rachel and I seven rounds of IVF to have Elliott, so when the opportunity came to tell the story of the pioneers, I jumped at the chance. The more we discovered, the more amazed we were, at the audacity of the science and the lack of support from the scientific community. It is an incredible story.”

Co-founding the world’s first fertility clinic

Following their success with Louise in 1978 and the first IVF baby boy, Alastair MacDonald, born in January 1979, the pioneering team established the world’s first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall, Cambridge in 1980.

Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall feat
Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall

Their story is a testament to the profound impact of dedicated individuals who have the power to shape history itself. Today, their legacy continues to offer hope to countless individuals and couples seeking to build their families.

Dr. Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall, reflects, “The unwavering commitment that propelled Steptoe, Edwards, and Purdy was their profound desire to fulfil the dreams of couples to have their own children. This same commitment continues to drive us today. We still have a small number of our team that worked under our pioneering founders, and it is both a privilege and an honour to carry forward their legacy”.

Providing hope for infertility

Lesley Brown was one of many women who found their way to the Dr Kershaw’s Hospital near Oldham in the hope that work by Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy would result in a treatment for infertility.

She and her husband John had spent nine years trying for a baby when they signed up for the innovative treatment.

John and Lesley Brown, parents of Louise. Photo courtesy of Martin Powell/the Brown family album.
John and Lesley Brown, parents of Louise. (Photo courtesy of Martin Powell/the Brown family album.)

Lesley was among 282 women who tried the then experimental procedure. Out of 457 attempts to recover eggs, fertilization was achieved in only 165 cycles.  Embryos were replaced in 112 of these cycles, with two successful live births – Louise and Alastair.

Lesley kept forever the letter from Robert Edwards that gave her the good news. “Just a short note to let you know that the early results on your blood and urine are very encouraging and indicate that you might be in early pregnancy. So please take things quietly – no skiing, climbing or anything too strenuous including Xmas shopping!”

“Joy” promises to be a deeply moving and inspiring experience, shining a light on the individuals who reshaped the landscape of fertility treatment, went on to found our clinic and whose work provides hope today for the millions of couples struggling to conceive – we at Bourn Hall can’t wait to watch it!


(Main image: L to R James Norton, Bill Nighy and Thomasin Mackenzie in Joy (Credit: Netflix))

One in six people will struggle with infertility – can you talk to your boss?

Having IVF treatment was life-changing for Sarah Dixon, now a mother to a two-year-old daughter – her experiences of trying to balance fertility treatment and the demands of a professional career prompted a career change. She is now the project development officer for Fertility in the Workplace for the charity Fertility Network UK, which is campaigning for better support in the workplace.

She says: “Most women only tell their employer they are pregnant after 12 weeks, when the risks of early loss are reduced. They also have a legal right to take time off for appointments and protections for their position.

“However, those going through fertility treatment have no rights, and they need to share with their employer deeply personal information that they may not have told their family or close friends. For me I could hardly say the word ‘IVF’ without choking up.

“Going through the experience myself made me aware that few employers have fertility policies, despite one in six people being affected by fertility struggles, and awareness of the impact of infertility on emotional wellbeing is very low.

“Also, it is difficult for the employee to know how to tell their boss about their treatment, and the implications it may have, without jeopardising their career.”

Sarah is the guest speaker at the Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group on 13th September 2023, a virtual group which is open to everyone experiencing infertility – not just Bourn Hall patients. She will be sharing her experiences and those of others and giving advice on how to balance work and infertility.

Bourn Hall Medical director Dr Thanos Papathanasiou was promoted to CEO earlier this year and he says that there is also a role for fertility clinics to become more workplace-friendly, which extends beyond offering flexible appointments.

“Providing a supportive environment for employees requiring fertility treatment provides a powerful incentive to join and stay with a company. It is good to hear from Fertility Network UK that there is significant demand for their support in creating policies and training staff to be more ‘fertility aware’.

“As fertility specialists our focus has always been on maximising the opportunities for a successful outcome, but now there is greater awareness that emotional wellbeing is an important element of this. We changed many of our practices during the pandemic, such as introducing virtual consultations and reducing the number of in-person appointments, and patients say that this also helps them to fit treatment around the pressures of work.

“However, we are also looking to go further and offer a choice of patient-focused treatments. Some people, like primary school teachers, like to schedule treatments to fit in with their time pressures, however for others the side-effects of hormone treatments are more of an issue, and they would prefer to be more flexible over timing to reduce the impacts of medication.”

Sarah says that Bourn Hall’s approach is welcomed and stresses that infertility impacts both men and women.

“Men don’t always go through so much of the physical procedures, but it can affect them mentally and they can often bottle up these feelings as they try to support their partner.

“Having an awareness and sensitivity in the workplace about infertility will make it easier for people to be more open and gain the support they need. For the employer it also improves staff retention.

“Fertility Network’s research found the average person going through an IVF cycle will need between 8-10 flexible working days for appointments, scans, egg collection and embryo transfer. Clinic appointments often overrun or are called on last minute, meaning workplace flexibility is essential.”

If you are struggling with infertility and would like hear Sarah share her experiences and advice, book a place at the next Fertility Support Group on 13th September 2023.

If you are an employer keen to provide a supportive environment, see more info at

 [Main image shows Sarah Dixon with Jackie Stewart, independent fertility counsellor]

Bourn Hall supports Fertility Network UK with launch of its new East of England Fertility Support Group

Bourn Hall consultant Dr Sharleen Hapuarachi will be discussing the importance of ‘Keeping Fertility Fit’ as the guest speaker for the first meeting of a new East of England Fertility Support Group. Hosted by Fertility Network UK, it will launch at 7.30pm on 6th September 2023.

Dr Hapuarachi explains that feeling out of control is a big aspect of struggling with fertility, but there are lifestyle factors that you can change that will help you prepare you physically and emotionally for the road ahead.

“There is strong evidence that good nutrition can improve your fertility, so it is really worthwhile getting fertility fit. For example, it is known that your body weight has a major impact on the hormones that control reproduction in both men and women,” she explains.

In some cases, achieving a healthy BMI can help restore the release of mature eggs, known as ovulation. A woman’s eggs are stored in a very premature state. The hormone oestrogen regulates the menstrual cycle and an increase in oestrogen causes an egg to mature and be released. If there is a hormone imbalance it can make ovulation irregular reducing the chances of conception.

For men, the hormone testosterone is used for sperm production. If he becomes obese then more of the testosterone is converted to oestrogen and this reduces his sperm count. Sperm are made every three months and in most cases a man’s sperm quality and quantity can be improved with lifestyle changes, which helps both natural and assisted conception.

Dr Hapuarachi continues: “Gentle exercise, eating a balanced health diet and reducing alcohol and caffeine can all help. It can be difficult to lose weight if you have a condition such as PCOS, so it is best to get personalised advice from a health professional early in your journey.”

Dr Hapuarachi has significant experience of helping patients investigate their fertility with testing and supporting those who struggled with infertility. Before joining Bourn Hall, she spent eight years based in NHS hospitals across the East of England as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Specialist Registrar.

Now at the fertility clinic she has helped to develop specialist services including a new Miscarriage Clinic for those who have experienced early pregnancy loss following natural or assisted conception.

Fertility Network UK’s new East of England Fertility Group will launch on the 6th September at 7.30pm. For Zoom login details please email: [email protected].

Read more about keeping fertility fit on our blog.

Surrogacy makes Chloe a mum after shock diagnosis at 16

Chloe from Essex had always wanted to be a mum so it came as a complete shock to be given the news aged 16 that she had a rare medical condition – which meant that, she had no womb and would need surrogacy to have her own biological child.

“I realised something was wrong when at 15 I was literally the only one of my friends who hadn’t started their periods,” says Chloe, speaking ahead of National Surrogacy Week which runs from 1-7 August.

Shock diagnosis

“My mum had sat me down as she had with my sisters to have the ‘chat’ about how my body would start to change and so I had been waiting for the day to come like it had for everyone else, but it didn’t.”

Chloe was subsequently diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH) and told she had no womb, which meant that the only way that she would be able to have her own biological child would be with IVF – and the help of a surrogate to carry her baby.

Would need a specialist in trans-abdominal egg collection

When she was 20 Chloe married Christopher and the couple asked for contributions to their ‘baby fund’ instead of wedding presents. They then approached Bourn Hall Clinic in Wickford.

Chhaya Prasannan-Nair
Chhaya Prasannan-Nair

“We had the IVF bit done first,” explains Chloe. “The doctors at Bourn Hall told me that my ovaries ‘float around’ as they are not anchored in place by the womb so I would need trans-abdominal egg collection instead of the standard procedure.”

Bourn Hall Clinic has an expert in trans-abdominal egg collection, Dr Chhaya Prasannan-Nair.

“Dr Prasannan-Nair collected eight of my eggs, which I was really pleased about,” says Chloe, “and four fertilised and were frozen. Once we had found our surrogate, she would then have a Frozen Embryo Transfer at Bourn Hall with one of our embryos, and there would be no genetic link to her.

Joined Surrogacy UK

“We joined Surrogacy UK in August 2020 and became part of their online members website where you can message people. After nearly eight months we met Sophie and spent three months getting to know each other before we became a ‘team’ in August 2021.”

Now she had her surrogate Chloe got back in touch with Bourn Hall and by early November Sophie had started her medication for the Frozen Embryo Transfer. “She had to inject herself, take medication, insert pessaries; she did all of that for us and it wasn’t easy,” says Chloe.

Together at embryo transfer and the birth

The Frozen Embryo Transfer took place at Bourn Hall on 6 January 2022.

“I was able to be in the room with Sophie and held her hand as we watched it on the screen,” explains Chloe. “It happened very fast – you don’t really see that much, but we got an ultrasound photograph of the moment of transfer so I could show Chris. Afterwards we went out and took a selfie to capture the moment.”

Sophie, Chloe and Chris at the seven-week scan at Bourn Hall Cambridge

On 15 January 2022 Chloe and Chris found out that Sophie was pregnant with their child – the IVF had worked first time.

“Sophie was amazing throughout the pregnancy; ultimately she became our friend and it was a really lovely experience,” says Chloe. “We went to the seven-week viability scan at Bourn Hall and both Chris and I were allowed to be in the room with Sophie which was really special, to be there together. It was amazing because at seven weeks you see something flicker on the screen which is the baby’s heartbeat.”

Matthew was born in September 2022.

“When Matthew was born I was allowed to cut the cord and I had my first skin-to-skin with him; it was really lovely,” says Chloe. “Chris then came to meet him and we were very, very happy – it was just such a surreal moment.

Egg retrieval meant Matthew is couple’s biological child

“We wouldn’t have been able to have Matthew without Bourn Hall. I know other women who have MRKH and unfortunately due to where their ovaries are and also partly where they live there aren’t the specialists that can do the trans-abdominal egg retrieval and it was just amazing that Bourn Hall had someone.”

Dr Chhaya Prasannan-Nair, Consultant Gynaecologist and IVF Specialist at Bourn Hall Clinic, commented:

“The trans-abdominal method of egg retrieval was integral to Chloe being able to use her own eggs in the IVF process and I am so delighted that the embryo transfer involving her surrogate worked first time. Her story is a wonderful example of how reproductive medicine and science can overcome what can seem like the biggest of obstacles. “

Most incredible feeling

Surrogate Sophie from Harlow, herself a mum-of-three, says that carrying Chloe and Chris’s baby has been ‘absolutely life-changing’ for her:

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Chloe and Chris with Matthew

“I can’t quite capture it in words, but being able to bring a child into this world is the most incredible feeling,” she says. “I could see what a fantastic mum Chloe would be and boy is she smashing it! To watch her cut Matthew’s cord and call his name when they handed him to her was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.”

Find out more about Surrogacy.

Bourn Hall marks a decade of successful teamwork at the Bedfordshire NHS IVF Satellite

To enable patients in Bedfordshire to gain fertility care closer to home, a NHS IVF satellite centre was opened at the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital (L&D) in 2013 in partnership with Bourn Hall Clinic. Now ten years later the partnership is still going strong and hundreds of babies have been born following IVF. Members of Bourn Hall’s team were recently invited to help celebrate ‘a decade of success’.

Mr Jude Jose, Lead for Fertility Services at the L&D, said that in the past decade more than 400 IVF babies had been born, commenting: “We are immensely proud to deliver such a dedicated and high quality service to our local couples.”

The NHS satellite IVF centre has meant that patients in the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) region can have the majority of their routine consultations and appointments close to home, travelling to Bourn Hall Cambridge just for specialist IVF services such as egg collection, fertilisation and embryo transfer. The two teams work closely together to deliver a seamless service that has been well received by patients.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall, attended the celebration along with his colleagues Leona Crookston and Jo Sharman, joint Lead Nurses at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge Clinic.

Dr Papathanasiou said: “The strong partnership between the dedicated fertility team at Luton & Dunstable Hospital and Bourn Hall is a brilliant example of how beneficial a joined-up and collaborative approach to fertility services can be for patients.”

In 2020 when L&D and Bedford Hospital merged to create Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust the dedicated fertility centre at Luton was integrated with the fertility unit at Bedford Hospital so that the two services are available under one roof. Miss Liliana Grosu, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist from Bedford Hospital, recently joined the two Consultants Mr Jude Jose and Ms Shanaz Akbar in running the fertility services at the L&D.

To access the L&D Fertility Centre patients need to first contact their GP.

More about the Bedfordshire NHS IVF Satellite.

[Photograph kindly supplied by the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust]

Specialist in overcoming early pregnancy loss joins Bourn Hall

The loss of a pregnancy can be devastating, leaving many questions. To help those impacted move on from their loss, Bourn Hall has appointed Dr Shreeya Tewary, formerly a Research Fellow and then Clinical Lecturer at the Tommy’s Centre for Miscarriage Research, to support the development of a new Miscarriage Clinic, which is open to both couples and individuals even after a single miscarriage following natural or assisted conception.

Dr Tewary comments: “1 in 4 women will suffer a miscarriage at some point in their life. For 80% of these losses it will be a chance event due to a chromosomal error in that particular pregnancy.  However, recurrent pregnancy loss is a different condition and much rarer. It is estimated that 5% of women experience two consecutive miscarriages and approximately 1-2% suffer three or more and these are increasingly likely to be genetically normal embryos with each loss so we need to look for other causes.”

Led medical trial

Dr Tewary completed an MD in Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL). She took two years out of her Obstetrics and Gynaecology training to work under the supervision of world-renowned Professors Quenby and Brosens at the Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. During this time she led a trial looking at the role of a medical treatment for patients with recurrent pregnancy loss.

Endometrium has important role

“There is emerging evidence that the human endometrium (lining of the womb) plays an important role in determining the success of implantation,” she continues.

Dr Tewary explains that the human endometrium is one of the most dynamic human tissues, undergoing regeneration every single month following a menstrual period during a woman’s reproductive years.

Work by researchers at The University of Warwick has given insights into the cyclical changes and mechanisms within the endometrium that govern embryo implantation. This has revealed that some women have fewer stem cells in their endometrium and this might influence its receptivity to embryos and selectivity of quality. It is thought that an imbalance may result in it rejecting healthy embryos.

Dr Tewary conducted the SIMPLANT trial to investigate if the medication Sitagliptin improves the stem cell count at the lining of the womb to be then potentially considered in the future as a pre-conception treatment to improve the environment for implantation*. The research was funded by Tommy’s and sponsored by University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

The aim of the study was to improve the quality of the endometrium and its ability to support implantation and pregnancy.

Promising results

The pilot study had promising results but Dr Tewary observes: “A much larger trial is needed to assess the effectiveness of sitagliptin in increasing the stem cell density of the endometrium.”

Medical investigation and intervention is just one element of helping patients with recurrent pregnancy loss.

“Recurrent pregnancy loss is debilitating and associated with considerable psychological distress. It has been shown that compassionate care and recognition of this significant life event has a beneficial effect on outcomes,” Dr Tewary continues. “Having a Miscarriage Clinic that is open to anyone on request will make this specialist support more accessible and I am delighted to be part of this pioneering approach at Bourn Hall.”

Bourn Hall’s Miscarriage Clinic

The Miscarriage Clinic aims to support those who have experienced a loss from either a natural or assisted conception. The team includes experienced fertility midwives and consultant gynaecologists and obstetricians each with different specialisms.

Bourn Hall’s Miscarriage Clinic is open to couples who have experienced one or more miscarriages. The process of investigation, concluding with a consultation to discuss results and next steps, takes approximately eight weeks.

The Miscarriage Clinic can be accessed through the Bourn Hall Clinics at Cambridge, Norwich, Wickford and Colchester. It will offer consultation and clinical advice, a carefully researched panel of tests, nutritional therapy, reassurance scans and dedicated fertility nurse and midwife specialists with experience of supporting those who have experienced loss of a pregnancy.

Find out more about the Miscarriage Clinic.

Research project: Can sitagliptin help increase stem cells in the wombs of women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages? Scientists funded by Tommy’s have found how a drug used for diabetes could help women who have experienced several miscarriages.

Research conducted by Warwick Medical School in collaboration with Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research and Juntendo University and published in EbioMedicine investigated the impact of the diabetes medication sitagliptin on stem cell formation in the endometrium. Research led by Professors Brosens and Quenby had previously found that patients who had experienced multiple miscarriages had very low levels of stem cells at the lining of the womb and it is suggested that this might be associated with poor implantation. Further funding would be required for a larger trial.

New book ‘Presenting the First Test-Tube Baby’ provides the lost paper 45 years later

When Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy announced the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, 45 years ago it was an international sensation. But there was also disbelief from some colleagues over this miraculous birth and the IVF pioneers were criticised for not sharing their secrets within a scientific publication. Now a new book, ‘Presenting the First Test-Tube Baby’, puts the record straight, providing the ‘lost paper’ that the scientific community sought and revealing a series of breakthroughs that has resulted in the birth of over 8 million babies worldwide.

To celebrate the book and the contributions made by so many there was a reception held at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, attended by current clinicians from regional hospitals. Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall, comments: “The passion that drove Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy was the desire to enable a couple to have their own child. This is a passion that motivates us today, it is an honour to continue their work and to support those that are pushing back the frontiers of reproductive science.”

The book, edited by Fiona Kisby Littleton, Susan Bewley and James Owen Drife, revealed that Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy wanted to be confident that “more than one baby could be conceived by these means” before they published their findings in detail in an academic journal.

It was not until several months after their second IVF child, Alastair MacDonald, was born and proved to be healthy that they finally published three papers in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in September 1980. This coincided with the opening of their clinic Bourn Hall to respond to the demand for treatment which arose after Louise’s birth.

The pioneers had struggled to gain funding for their work and there was a media frenzy ahead of the birth of Louise. The publisher of the Daily Mail offered the carrot of further funding and a payment for an exclusive of the birth. This fuelled cynicism from the scientific community and also doubt over the claim to be the ‘world first’ – as a team in Australia was also close to a breakthrough.

The book shows that 18 months before the scientific publication, the two men gave a lecture on 26th January 1979, with the shy Jean Purdy in the front row with Ruth Fowler, Edwards’ wife and early collaborator. Steptoe and Edwards presented the detailed information and results the scientists craved, but no transcript was created. ‘Presenting the First Test-Tube Baby’ is the first time their lecture has appeared in print, and includes a commentary from people who were there reminiscing about its impact.

The reception was attended by Louise Brown and Alastair MacDonald, with his mother Grace.

Louise Brown, spoke at the reception: “Over 200 women attended the little cottage hospital in Oldham. My mum tried for ten years to have a baby and was the first to be able to raise a child as a result of the programme, but they all contributed to its success. My birth brought hope to people worldwide. This book provides an important record for the future, capturing the early days of IVF that might otherwise be lost for ever.”

Read more about the history of IVF, Bourn Hall, its founders, and Louise Brown on our blog.

Take a look through some photos of the event:

Introducing the first test-tube baby
From L-R: Editor Susan Bewley, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Women’s Health, King’s College London; Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall; Editor Fiona Kisby Littleton, University College London Institute of Education; Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby; Andrew Steptoe, son of IVF pioneer Patrick Steptoe; Alastair MacDonald, the world’s second IVF baby and first boy; Editor James Owen Drife, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Leeds; Grace MacDonald, the world’s second IVF mother.
Andrew Steptoe with a bust of his father Patrick Steptoe
Louise Brown give a short talk
Alastair MacDonald and Louise Brown

Bourn Hall busts fertility myths at Pride events this Summer

Bourn Hall’s friendly staff will be available to chat to visitors at Essex Pride, Cambridge Pride and Norwich Pride to explain the options and support available at our clinics for LGBTQ+ people looking to start a family.  

It is difficult for couples not in heterosexual relationships to get expert fertility advice, so Bourn Hall is supporting three Pride events this Summer to show that our doors are always open for a chat. 

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

“Many LGBTQ+ people want to have children at some stage in their lives and know they need support to achieve that,” says Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Chief Executive and Medical Director at Bourn Hall. 

 “Our concern is that they will go on the internet for advice and not talk to a health professional about their options.  

“Essex Pride, Cambridge Pride and Norwich Pride are good opportunities to meet people face-to-face and get the message out that it is never too early to consider your fertility options and we are happy to talk.” 

Of particular concern to fertility experts at Bourn Hall is that same-sex female couples still look for sperm donors online.  In addition to the safety and health fears, the baby and its parents will not have proper legal protections. 

“Some lesbian couples or single women think the ‘DIY’ method at home with internet sourced sperm will be cheaper, but the human cost can be high,” Dr Papathanasiou continues. “Fertility treatment through a registered clinic ensures that donors have been screened and both mums become legal parents of the baby.” 

Options available to same-sex female couples at a regulated fertility clinic are IUI (intrauterine insemination) where donor sperm is inserted directly into the womb or IVF where donor sperm is mixed with collected eggs in the lab.  

The latest figures released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility clinics in the UK, revealed that more lesbian couples going through clinics are now choosing to have IVF – with 45 per cent of treatment cycles for patients in female same-sex relationships now IVF, compared to ten years previously when it was only 27 per cent. 

Dr Papathanasiou says: “There are a number of choices for same-sex female couples and it is well worth talking through the options. Many don’t realise they can also donate some of their eggs and get IVF treatment at a much-reduced price and this might make it more accessible. 

“We also offer IVF to same-sex male couples who are supported by a surrogate to carry the pregnancy as well as egg or sperm freezing options for trans people ahead of starting hormone treatment. 

Edith and Douglas
Amelia and Helen’s twins Edith and Douglas

Amelia and Helen from Essex are mums to nine-month-old twins after successful IVF treatment at Bourn Hall’s Essex clinic:   

“We knew we wanted to do it ‘properly’,” says Amelia, “and we wanted any future children to know that we had invested time, thought and planning into them coming into existence. It is a serious and important decision.”  

The couple have the following advice for other same-sex couples who want to become parents: 

“I would say get started as soon as you can. Don’t hang around and wait, have the consultation with the doctors at the clinic, discuss what your options are,” says Amelia. 

“We love being parents. When you have really hoped and wished for something for such a long time, you just love and appreciate every minute of it. “  

Cambridge Pride takes place on 17 June, Essex Pride takes place on 24 June and Norwich Pride takes place on 29 July. 

Read more about Amelia and Helen’s story here.

Bourn Hall awarded new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS contract

“NHS-funded IVF was a lifesaver,” says one of the first couples to benefit when the NHS Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Integrated Care Board agreed to reinstate funding for specialised fertility treatment. The new contract to supply treatment has now been formalised and awarded to Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, which provides NHS funded IVF for all regions of the East of England and East Midlands.

The NHS contract was successfully re-awarded to Bourn Hall on technical merit, which included a high technical score and success rates, technical skill, quality of care and service delivery. There are no waiting times for treatment at Bourn Hall and 60% of patients under the age of 35 have a baby following one egg collection procedure*.

Kelly from Peterborough was only 22 when she was told that several ectopic pregnancies had damaged her tubes and she would struggle to have a baby naturally. At that time, NHS funding for fertility treatment was not available in Peterborough so she started saving for private IVF treatment. That was five years ago.

Then in July 2021 Kelly and husband Dan heard the good news that IVF treatment would be available on the NHS to people living in Cambridgeshire, and, having done their research, chose Bourn Hall for treatment. It was successful first time and their son Harlan-Ray was born just before Christmas.

“NHS funding gave us a lifeline,” says Kelly. “I was under so much stress I had to resign from work to concentrate on treatment; the thought of paying for it would have added so much more pressure.”

Research for Fertility Network UK conducted by Middlesex University found that 90% of people facing long-term infertility experienced depression, and 42% had reported feeling suicidal.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, comments: “Infertility is a medical condition, which also has an impact on mental health and relationships.

“The re-introduction of funding is already making a huge difference to couples struggling with infertility, as Kelly and Dan were. Removing the postcode lottery is now enabling everyone who meets the criteria to have the chance of a baby.”

Kelly says: “Being infertile is isolating. I wanted a child before all my friends, and they were all on number two or three before I had even got pregnant. I blocked myself off from them and have lost a lot of friends.

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Kelly and Harlan

“Now I have Harlan I wouldn’t change any of it. I am enjoying being a stay-at-home mum and in the future I would like to become a midwife or a fertility nurse. I have learnt so much on my fertility journey and I would love to be able to help others.”

Dr Papathanasiou comments that the majority of people conceive naturally within two years, so if couples have been trying for longer than this, they should talk to their GP in the first instance and gain expert advice. “We are always happy to talk to people about their fertility health; not everyone needs IVF to conceive, and we offer advice and treatment that is tailored for the patient.”

Patients are referred for IVF by their hospital consultant in accordance with the NHS Cambridgeshire & Peterborough ICB eligibility criteria. Patients can choose where to be treated from the list of IVF providers detailed on the referral proforma.

Find out more about funding options for IVF on our website here, or more information is available from Bourn Hall’s dedicated patient support coordinators by phone on 01954 717210 or email at [email protected].

Read more of Kelly’s story in our Your Stories section.

*Includes a fresh embryo transfer and, if available, subsequent frozen embryo transfers resulting from a single egg collection procedure.

At-home male fertility test to reduce embarrassment

Male embarrassment over the thought of giving a semen sample at a clinic can delay couples getting the fertility support they need. To overcome this issue, fertility clinic Bourn Hall is offering a service where a sample produced at home is collected for rapid analysis, and the results explained one-to-one by a specialist fertility consultant.

Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male infertility
Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male fertility

Bourn Hall consultant Mr Oliver Wiseman is one of the few urologists who specialise in male fertility and says that he would always recommend that both partners are tested; even if the female knows she has a fertility issue it doesn’t mean that there may not also be a male factor.

“Fifty percent of infertility has a male factor and testing is non-invasive,” he explains. “As sperm is made continuously, its quality can be improved with lifestyle changes. In some other patients, the presence of dilated veins can affect sperm manufacture, and these can be treated. So, there are a number of options available that may improve the chances of natural conception or successful treatment.”

Speed is important for semen analysis, so Bourn Hall has its own embryology laboratory where sperm are examined immediately for quality, quantity, and mobility. Although very discreet, the thought of physically going into the clinic can be off-putting to many men and the clinic is keen to offer alternatives.

Bourn Hall has partnered with MOJO to offer a revolutionary ‘at-home’ semen analysis service, where men produce a sample in the privacy of their home and the samples are then collected for analysis. The semen analysis is performed by an AI powered microscope and results are discussed with a Bourn Hall fertility specialist during a medical consultation.

Mr Wiseman continues: “It can be devastating for a man to be told he has a poor semen analysis and we would always prefer to give the results personally, so there is an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the options going forward. There are many options for treatment so a low or poor sperm result is the starting point of a journey, not the end point.”

The new ‘at-home’ testing service – which also includes options for female tests – has been established to provide patients with more choice and flexibility. In response to the Covid pandemic, Bourn Hall changed the way that it provided treatment and many of the innovations it introduced have been popular with patients trying to juggle treatment and work and have not impacted success rates.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director at Bourn Hall, says: “Patients value being able to talk to someone who understands their fertility journey and can give them advice about improving their fertility as well as the treatment options. By offering this service, we are combining all the benefits of choosing the world’s first IVF clinic with the convenience of home testing.”

The collection and semen analysis are provided by MOJO, and consultancy by Bourn Hall.

Have you told your employer you are trying for a baby?

Would you want to tell your employer that you are trying for a baby? Probably not. The Medical Director of Bourn Hall says that there is more that clinics can do to reduce the stress of balancing work and fertility treatment. His comments come ahead of the Fertility Network UK summit ‘Recognising Reproductive Health’ on 28th March, where he will be chairing one of the sessions.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, will be talking about how to reduce the stress of IVF treatment at the Fertility Network UK summit. The patient advocacy charity recently gained government funding from the Department of Health and Social Care’s Women’s Health and Wellbeing Fund for its ‘Fertility in the Workplace’ initiative, which aims to enhance the understanding of the impact of infertility.

Dr Papathanasiou comments: “The Covid pandemic gave us the opportunity to rethink the patient IVF journey. By necessity we reduced the amount of contact time during treatment and increased access to online consultations. Although patients and staff missed the face-to-face contact, we saw no impact on success rates from minimising in-person appointments.

“This experience has given us the opportunity to redesign the patient pathway. We have made it more flexible for those balancing the demands of work with the emotional impact of infertility, which has been described as a kind of grief.”

Balancing work and fertility treatment

Infertility is recognised as a medical condition and IVF as a course of treatment. Bourn Hall has developed ways to manage the treatment to minimise the impact on the working day; this includes offering flexibility over appointments and protocols.

For each round, the partner receiving treatment will require about five appointments over a two-month period, from initial consultation to embryo transfer. Good mental wellbeing is important and treatment is supported by nutritional therapy and counselling.

Working with employers

Speakers at the Summit include Nickie Aiken MP, who recently launched a private members bill to give individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment statutory time off work. The Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill is now going to a second reading.

Anya Sizer is the Fertility in the Workplace lead for Fertility Network UK and she welcomes the bill, saying: “A lack of understanding and legal protections mean too many people juggling infertility and employment still do not get the support they need, and both individuals and firms suffer as a result.”

Other guest speakers include: Alex Davies-Jones MP, who has personal experience of juggling IVF and a career; and speakers from Co-op, who have who have recently introduced an enhanced fertility treatment policy, and AutoTrader, who have been working with Fertility Network UK on the latter’s Fertility in the Workplace initiative.

Recognising Reproductive Health’ is a free event, but numbers are limited so booking is essential. As well as speaker presentations, there will be plenty of time for networking and sharing ideas. The summit takes place on 28th March from 10.30am-3.30pm at City Hall, Kamal Chunchie Way, London E16 1ZE.

Book your place now.

More information

The Fertility Workplace Pledge has been launched by Nickie Aiken MP to give individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment statutory time off work. The pledge has already been signed by several large UK employers including Co-op, NatWest Group, Metro Bank, Channel 4, Zurich Insurance and UK Hospitality.

The Fertility Workplace Pledge consists of four steps for employers to sign up to:

  • Accessible information: Having an accessible workplace fertility policy to create an open culture free from stigma; to make sure employees feel comfortable in the workplace; and to prevent the best talent from leaving.
  • Awareness in the workplace: Establishing the role of Fertility Ambassador to open conversations internally and make people aware of available support.
  • Staff training: Making sure line managers understand the realities of treatment for employees including the physical, mental, and financial impact — and how they can support someone going through it.
  • Flexible working: Giving the right for employees to request flexible working, including reasonable working adjustments, so they can attend appointments.

The second reading on 25th November was interrupted, so debate is to be resumed. Read more about the bill at

Painful, heavy periods are not normal, warn fertility doctors

Fertility experts are concerned that women waiting for treatment for painful, heavy periods may not be aware of the potential impact on their fertility. Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director and CEO at Bourn Hall Clinic, says that one of the common reasons for female infertility is endometriosis but the condition itself can harm the reproductive organs and some surgery to treat it can have an impact on fertility.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

Speaking during Endometriosis Action Month in March he comments: “Many women that we see in the clinic are often not aware that painful, heavy or prolonged periods are not ‘normal’. They may have had endometriosis for many years before seeking advice, often because the contraceptive hormones have masked the condition.”

New research by Endometriosis UK shows that 75 per cent of women would put off seeing a GP if they were experiencing painful periods which were interfering with day-to-day activities – with the figure rising to 92 per cent of those aged  16-34. One of the reasons given by 24 per cent for putting off seeing a doctor was that they considered painful periods to be a ‘normal part of life.’

Endometriosis occurs when tissue like that lining the womb starts to grow in other places, such as around the ovaries and fallopian tubes, creating scar tissue and blocking the tubes. It can swell with hormones, so the pain can become worse before and during a period. There are different stages of the disease, and the symptoms can vary so it is problematic to diagnose. It can be identified with a scan and diagnosed with certainty using laparoscopy.

Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day and one of its missions is to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health. Dr Papathanasiou adds:

“The decision whether to proceed with fertility treatment or surgery for endometriosis is a difficult one and should always be individualised. Whilst surgery may remove some endometriosis, and sometimes encourage natural conception, it is not always the preferred option. Operating on a woman’s ovaries can often reduce the egg stores irreversibly, even in the hands of an expert surgeon. It is therefore important that every woman has the support from a team of specialists, including the fertility specialist, so that she fully understands her options and can make an informed decision that is right for her.

“For women who struggle to get pregnant IVF treatment is often a good option as it works well even for women with severe endometriosis, damaged tubes or a scarred pelvis.

“For women who have severe endometriosis but do not want to have a baby at the moment there is the option of preserving their fertility by harvesting and storing their eggs. Accumulating evidence suggests that this option works better before undertaking major surgery for endometriosis. Storing eggs because of severe endometriosis may be offered under the NHS in some regions.

“If a woman has painful periods and is struggling to get pregnant then they would be advised to seek fertility advice. Depending on their age and the severity of the condition the NICE guidelines recommend they should be prioritised for fertility testing.”

Megan would pass out from painful periods

Megan and Faith Megan Jolly, from Swaffham, Norfolk said that she had never heard about endometriosis until the couple started trying for a baby.

As a teenager Megan’s periods were so painful she would pass out – but she didn’t realise at the time that this wasn’t normal. “I would say that it’s not okay to have really painful periods,” she says. “I remember one time I really burnt my stomach on a hot water bottle because the pain was just that bad.”

Megan was put on the pill to ease the pain, but when she stopped contraception to try for a baby her symptoms returned.

“My periods became very heavy, and very painful, so I went to the GP and she basically said, ‘either you have a baby, or you go back on contraception’,” explains Megan. “I said, ‘actually we have been trying’. She asked how long for and then agreed to do a referral to Bourn Hall Clinic for fertility testing.”

Fertility specialists at Bourn Hall suspected endometriosis and this was confirmed by a surgeon at the local hospital.

“The consultant at the hospital explained that I did have lesions all around my bowel that they carefully burnt away to try and ease the pain,” says Megan. “I also had a dye test that showed my tubes were partly blocked and sluggish, so they recommended IVF.”

Megan and Kyle had successful IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Norwich and are now parents to 15-month-old daughter Faith. Megan says the name came out of hope:

“After I had the embryo transfer, I was talking to my tummy saying, ‘come on, Faith, stick around’. When we found we were pregnant my husband’s words were ‘Faith has stuck’. Corny, I know – so that’s why her name is Faith; she has always been Faith.

“We found out I was pregnant on Easter Sunday and Faith was born just before Christmas. I love being a mum, it still feels surreal. I just think ‘Oh My God, I can’t believe she is mine.’”

Read more about endometriosis on our blog.

Portuguese fertility doctors visit the birthplace of IVF treatment

Bourn Hall was delighted to welcome a delegation of Portuguese doctors from leading medical centres to its Cambridge clinic. The visit was organised by Gedeon Richter, a leading manufacturer of innovative therapies for women’s health, and gave the doctors a unique experience and insight into the history and future of IVF.

One of Richter’s most important niche areas is its Women’s Healthcare division, and the company offers a portfolio of therapies in areas of unmet need such as female fertility, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.

Luis Freire, Senior Product Manager at Gedeon Richter, and his colleagues facilitated the visit, which included 20 Portuguese fertility doctors from leading hospitals.

They were excited to come to Bourn Hall to find out more about the story of IVF from Dr Mike Macnamee. Dr Kay Elder discussed how cutting-edge science is increasing understanding of human reproduction, and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director at Bourn Hall talked about the future direction and challenges of this field of medicine.

Luis Freire comments: “Bourn Hall is such a symbolic place in the history of IVF; it was fascinating to meet scientists and fertility specialists that had worked with Professor Edwards, a co-pioneer in IVF, and to hear about the current challenges and future developments in reproductive medicine.”

Dr Thanos comments: “It was a pleasure to share our journey with Portuguese colleagues and to hear of their experiences. Collaboration has always been vital in reproductive medicine and there is still so much to learn.”

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall CEO, with Luis Freire, Senior Product Manager at Gedeon Richter
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall CEO, with Luis Freire, Senior Product Manager at Gedeon Richter
Mike Macnamee and Kay Elder both worked with Robert Edwards
Mike Macnamee and Kay Elder both worked with Robert Edwards
Bourn Hall welcomed a delegation of Portuguese fertility doctors
Bourn Hall welcomed a delegation of Portuguese fertility doctors

Couple’s own ‘miracle’ baby born on Christmas Day

For Niki, each Christmas passing, would mark another year gone by without being able to get pregnant.

“Having children is something that I have always wanted and there were nights when I would cry myself to sleep because it just wasn’t happening,” says Niki. “It was really hard going on social media when friends had posted up photos of their pregnancy bumps and baby scans. I was pleased for them but when all you want is to be pregnant, t feels as though everyone else is moving on with their lives.”

But this all changed last year when baby Louis arrived on Christmas Day following successful IVF at Bourn Hall Norwich and was featured in the Eastern Daily Press.

As Niki and Adam live in Norfolk they were referred by their GP for NHS fertility testing at Bourn Hall but the tests could find no reason for their infertility.

Unexplained infertility

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, says that ‘Unexplained infertility’ is the reason given for around one third of couples seeking IVF treatment in the UK. It simply means that, following investigative tests, no direct cause can be identified.

“Unexplained infertility might be caused by sub-fertility on both sides and sometimes lifestyle changes such as improving nutrition, or medication can increase the chances of natural fertility and we can support couples with advice on this. But it can add to a couple’s stress not to be given a definitive reason for not being able to conceive,” he says.

“I did find it frustrating that we didn’t have a cause for our infertility,” says Niki, aged 33. “We obviously needed a bit of help.”

Niki was advised that she needed to reduce her BMI – which led to a complete change of lifestyle for the couple. As well as counting her calories she embraced regular exercise.

“I did a lot of swimming and went to the gym, going on the treadmill and going to spin classes. I lost two stone,” she says. “I did everything I could to ensure that I was as healthy as I could be,” she says. “As well as exercising regularly, we took vitamins and made ‘fertility smoothies’ ate lots of eggs, avocados and salads.

“Like lots of people during the pandemic we took up walking when the gyms and swimming pools had to close. Walking wasn’t something we had really done before but love it now, we did lots of nice nature trails and walking on the beach. I also took up jogging.”

Getting fertility fit to improve chances

Getting fertility fit can improve the chances of fertility treatment, and once Niki had reduced her BMI the couple were approved for NHS-funded IVF.

“I basically did everything I could to get my body as ready as possible for IVF treatment and pregnancy. I felt healthier than I have ever felt in my life.”

The couple’s IVF at Bourn Hall was successful on their second round.

“Strangely enough my egg collection and transfer were over the Easter weekend,” she says. “When I came round from the anaesthetic, I was told they had only collected three eggs. I thought ‘it’s not going to work’ and cried all the way home.

“I got a call the next day to say two of the eggs had fertilized. One was transferred and then we had to wait two weeks to get the result. I was really scared of taking the pregnancy test in case the IVF hadn’t worked; when I found out I was pregnant it was amazing.”

A little miracle

weight loss for IVF, Adam and Louis“We had our embryo transfer at Easter and Louis was born on Christmas Day. It was very bizarre how it worked out that way! He is truly a little miracle.”

As the family prepare to celebrate Louis’s first birthday on December 25th Niki says:

“Every year I would say to myself ‘next year will be the year’ and last year it was!

“Now I have got everything I ever wanted. Christmas is going to be extra special every year now.”

Couples worried about their fertility can have a free consultation at Bourn Hall with a fertility nurse specialist and also a chat with a nutritionist to help them get fertility fit.

Santa’s Christmas presence brings in the crowds to Wickford at Christmas

Back by popular demand, Santa’s appearance was once again made possible by Bourn Hall’s Essex fertility clinic.

Crowd-pleaser Santa kicked off the Christmas festivities in style this weekend at the annual Wickford At Christmas Street Fair – leading the opening procession down the High Street before taking a seat in his grotto for an afternoon of meeting families.

Santa has been sponsored since 2017 by Bourn Hall Clinic which has a purpose-built fertility clinic in the town centre – and two mums who struggled with infertility were amongst the first to take their children along to get an audience with him.

Amanda and Michael with Alfie at Santa's grotto
Amanda and Michael with Alfie at Santa’s grotto

Amanda from Wickford met Santa with her four-year-old son Alfie.

“Christmas is all about children and the smiles on their faces so I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to experience taking my child to see Father Christmas,” says Amanda. “It fills my heart with joy.”

Amanda was 30 when she and husband Michael were told they would need IVF. Amanda only had two periods a year and says she felt like ‘the clock was ticking’ as so many of her friends already had children or were expecting.

“I didn’t have any close friends who had struggled so it was quite isolating,” she says.

After successful IVF at Bourn Hall Amanda and Michael became parents in May 2018. “It was amazing when Alfie was born,” says Amanda. “I couldn’t believe this child was mine, it was magical.”

Also at the Fair to meet Santa was Laura from South Ockendon and her five-year-old daughter Agatha.

Laura and Agatha meet Santa
Laura and Agatha meet Santa

“It was so lovely to see Santa with Agatha,” says Laura who describes her daughter as ‘an early Christmas present’ explaining: “She was born in October and the run-up to Christmas always feels extra special and reminds me of those early weeks with her.

“I had always wondered if I might have problems getting pregnant as all the women in my family suffer with heavy periods and my mum ended up having to have a hysterectomy when she was in her forties.

“We turned to IVF and were lucky enough to be entitled to NHS funding. Bourn Hall was our clinic of choice and we have always been so pleased with our decision.”

Laura and husband Jodie’s IVF treatment at Bourn Hall worked first time. “Agatha really was our Christmas miracle,” adds Laura.

Becky Green, Lead Nurse at Bourn Hall Wickford, meets Santa
Becky Green from Bourn Hall Wickford, meets Santa

Joining the families and Santa at the Wickford At Christmas Fair was Becky Green who recently joined Bourn Hall to lead the Essex nursing team. She was previously at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital where she worked as a delivery suite coordinator.

“Wickford At Christmas is such a special time to celebrate with families and friends,” says Becky. “It has been a pleasure getting to meet some of the Bourn Hall families today and hear their stories. Having only recently started working at Bourn Hall it just reiterates the amazing work being done here in Wickford and makes me excited for my future working at the clinic.”

Wickford at Christmas 2022 - outside the grotto

Bourn Hall Clinic treats both NHS-funded and self-funded IVF patients in Essex. There is currently a postcode lottery for patients and where a couple lives, or who their GP is, can dictate whether they are eligible for NHS funding for IVF treatment.

The Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB) has now opened a consultation about how a fairer policy should be implemented and is proposing to offer two cycles of funded IVF to all patients who meet the strict criteria.

There is a simple survey to complete – closing date 18th December 2022

  • Writing: NHS Mid and South Essex ICB, Phoenix Court, Christopher Martin Road, Basildon, Essex, SS14 3HG.

Little Elizabeths plant a wood to commemorate The Queen

Five little Elizabeths were among the Bourn Hall babies who helped the Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Mrs Julie Spence, to create ‘Elizabeth’s Wood’ as part of The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative.

Ahead of National Fertility Awareness Week, seven lime trees have been planted at Bourn Hall Cambridge, one for each decade of The Queen’s reign, and each dedicated to a milestone in IVF – one of the greatest scientific and medical achievements made during The Queen’s reign.

Bourn Hall was built in 1602 on the site of a Norman castle and the park was landscaped by Humphry and John Adey Repton in 1817. It Is registered by Historic England for its special historic interest. When the Hall became the world’s first IVF clinic in 1980 it was described by the IVF pioneers Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy as a ‘place of sanctuary’ for those struggling with infertility.

Canopy of heart shaped leaves

Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Mrs Julie Spence said: “I am delighted to see all these young people planting trees for the future. This group of seven lime trees being planted here today not only continues the tradition of planting lime in this Repton parkland, it also symbolises the past and ongoing fertility work here at Bourn Hall and forms part of The Queen’s Green Canopy to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee.”

Historically, lime trees with their canopy of heart-shaped leaves have been used for shade and shelter. In folklore across Europe, they are often associated with fertility.

The small wood is part of a wider biodiversity plan at Bourn Hall that will also provide restful places for patients and staff to walk and sit. The fertility journey is a rollercoaster of emotions and woodland supports emotional wellbeing.

Body clock ticking

Elisabeth (Lizzie) Hasketh-Boston was born after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, just a few days before her mum’s 40th birthday. Her parents, Jessica and Marc, had been trying to have a baby for ten years and Lizzie was named after Jessica’s mum who passed away suddenly.

“I really did feel as though my body clock was ticking,” says Jessica, who has PCOS, a common cause of fertility issues in women. “I had begun to think that perhaps being a mum just wasn’t going to happen for me. Over the years I used to have dreams sometimes that I had a baby and would wake up and it wasn’t true. After Lizzie was born it took me a while to realise that I wasn’t still dreaming.”

Passion for trees

Dr Mike Macnamee welcomed Mrs Spence to Bourn Hall. Mike joined the clinic 37 years ago and worked closely with Professor Edwards to develop the first hormone drugs for IVF and establish protocols to improve success rates.

He says: “Bob Edwards was a contemporary of Her Majesty and was also passionate about trees. His ambition was always to create families and so it is deeply moving that many of the little Elizabeths here today have been named after much loved mothers and grandmothers.”

Representatives from the British Fertility Society, Fertility Network UK and Professor Edwards’ family also attended the commemoration.

Bryan Woodward of the British Fertility Society, said: “Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards were responsible for the first successful application of in-vitro fertilisation in humans, transforming not just the lives of millions of sub-fertile people but also society and science across the world.

“When he started his work on IVF, Patrick Steptoe had the foresight to bring together colleagues interested in fertility into a professional organization designed to help them share excellence in practice and develop their nascent field. This body – the British Fertility Society – is now a thriving multi-professional association. It remains committed to the scientific and clinical ideals of its founders, and is proud to be associated with this commemoration.”

Gwenda Burns, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK, said: “The theme for this year’s National Fertility Awareness Week is #Fighting4Fertility because fertility patients have so many things to fight for, including fair access to NHS-funded fertility treatment and IVF being recognised as necessary medical treatment. So many patients are doing that while dealing with the extreme levels of distress that infertility often brings. That’s why Bourn Hall clinic’s ‘place of sanctuary’ is so welcome. What a beautiful idea and so needed. We hope the lime trees planted here give fertility patients the emotional shelter they need to withstand the storms of infertility.”

Jenny Joy, Professor Edwards’ daughter, said on behalf of the family: “Our father’s passion for planting trees and nurturing them until they flourished took place in every location we called home, and was a big part of our life as a family from the start. They were part of the landscape of our childhood, and we can still see them today in many of these places as part of our father’s legacy, including at his farm in Dry Drayton where there are still hundreds of his trees. A tree seedling, like a human embryo, is a tiny beginning for something that needs to be nourished and cared for to grow into something unique and wonderful.”

IVF milestones

1. Professor Robert Edwards achieved the first human fertilization outside the body in 1968.
2. Patrick Steptoe established the British Fertility Society in 1972 and was the first to use a laparoscope for fertility diagnosis.
3. The world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978.
4. The UK’s first baby from a frozen blastocyst was born in 1985.
5. The first Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed in 1990.
6. Bourn Hall’s first baby conceived through ICSI was born in 1995 –delivering huge advances in treating those with male infertility.
7. Bourn Hall set up the first egg sharing programme in 2002 – extending the opportunity of a family to others.

Queen's Green Canopy commemorated
Five little Elizabeths were among the Bourn Hall babies to plant trees at Bourn Hall

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou is new CEO at world-renowned Bourn Hall Clinic

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has been appointed its new CEO, succeeding Dr Mike Macnamee.  

Dr Papathanasiou has built a strong medical team with an ethos on patient-centred care; he has specialist interests in the treatment of women with low ovarian reserve, recurrent miscarriage, and those who respond poorly to IVF stimulation drugs, as these patients require highly personalised medical input based on the latest evidence-based research.  

Working closely with the NHS in Norfolk, he has pioneered a joined-up approach to fertility treatment whereby fertility specialists work closely with GPs to ensure early resolution with minimal intervention. Tailored advice on lifestyle changes and carefully monitored ovulation induction have boosted pregnancy success rates. 

Dr Papathanasiou comments: “I am honoured to take the helm at Bourn Hall as fertility treatments move into the next phase with an agenda of continuous improvement. I look forward to building upon the foundation of over 40 years of Bourn Hall babies.” 

An environment to flourish 

Dr Macnamee will continue to support Bourn Hall as a member of the Board of Directors and act as Chief Advisor. He joined Bourn Hall 37 years ago as a young PhD scientist to assist in the development of IVF as a robust clinical treatment following the birth of Louise Brown – the world’s first IVF baby.  

Closely involved with the development of the first hormone drugs for use in IVF, Dr Macnamee worked with IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards on a series of clinical trials which have substantially increased IVF live-birth rates. He progressed from a scientific career into management and has successfully led Bourn Hall, creating an environment for employees to flourish and patients to fulfil their dreams of parenthood. 

Full network of clinics

Bourn Hall now has a network of full-service and satellite clinics across the East of England offering NHS-funded and self-funded IVF and fertility treatments. In 2005 Dr Macnamee led a management buyout and subsequent expansion. In January 2021 the clinic gained investment from a Canadian-based group of investors. 

Dr Macnamee comments: “The goal is always to provide the best possible care for our patients. Thanos and I have worked closely together for many years, and I know his leadership will continue to improve the experience and outcomes for our patients.”  

Adam Capland, Chairman of the Bourn Hall Board, said: “Mike has steered the organisation with wisdom and compassion to create the group of clinics that we are so proud of today, and in doing so he has maintained the ethos and strength of the ‘Bourn Hall family’. We are delighted that he will continue as a member of Bourn Hall’s Board of Directors.  

“Thanos is held in high esteem by staff and patients, and I am sure he will continue this approach embracing the new innovations in practice and treatments that are emerging. This is an exciting new phase for the clinic.”  



Payment on success – Bourn Hall partners with Gaia to offer more options

Bourn Hall has partnered with Gaia to offer the world’s first IVF insurance plan where you pay for treatment on success, reducing the cost for those that are unsuccessful and spreading payments for those that take home a baby.

Gaia offers a new way to pay for IVF. For each round (stimulation, egg collection and embryo transfer) you pay an insurance premium. When a patient is successful – and only once they have given birth – they pay back the fixed cost of the IVF treatment they have received. If they are unable to have a child, they pay nothing beyond their initial premium*.

Gaia insurance plan

Gaia was founded by Nader AlSalim after the birth of his son. Nader and his wife were successful, but only after spending £50,000 on five cycles of IVF at clinics in London and overseas. He felt there should be a way to spread the cost for those that take home a baby and reduce the cost for people who are ultimately unsuccessful.

“Going through IVF is emotionally, physically and financially painful.  At Gaia, we remove the financial unknowns by fixing the cost of your IVF treatment. You pay us a premium per round, and we pay Bourn Hall upfront for your entire treatment cost. That leaves you free to focus on your fertility treatment.”

Gaia uses proprietary data to predict the chances of success over up to six IVF cycles, using an algorithm developed from the HFEA data sets and each member’s medical history. Using this and Bourn Hall’s personalised treatment plan, Gaia costs a fixed price plan together with an insurance premium for each cycle of treatment.

Where the patient is successful, payment for the full cost of treatment is due after the birth of the baby, spread across 12 months at 0% interest.

Range of financing options

The quality of treatment at Bourn Hall is the same high standard regardless of the method of payment.

Richard Walters, Marketing and Sales Director at Bourn Hall, says: “We provide NHS-funded IVF treatment to patients across the East of England, but where this is not available, or patients are not eligible, we aim to offer a range of payment options.

“This includes pay-as-you go directly to the clinic, Access Fertility refund packages which involve payment in advance and a refund of up to 100% if you are unsuccessful, and now the new Gaia insurance programme.

“There is also the opportunity for some patients to donate sperm or share their eggs which also makes treatment more affordable.”

If you would like to find out more about funding treatment contact Bourn Hall Patient Services.

To get your personalised Gaia pricing plan, visit

See some commonly asked questions about Gaia.

*Assuming completion of the full plan. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral

To ensure our patient’s fertility pathways are not disrupted, all our scheduled treatments, tests and consultations will continue as planned.

As a mark of respect, all non-clinical functions will close for the day, including our patient services and enquiry teams.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to His Majesty The King and The Royal Family.


If you are a current patient and need support, or have a question, please contact your relevant nursing team:

  • Cambridge – 01954 717229
  • Essex – 01268 661700
  • Norwich – 01953 600150

For any urgent questions or concerns, please email our Nurses on [email protected]

Medical Emergency – In an emergency, out of hours: Our on-call doctor can be contacted Monday to Saturday from 5pm to 10pm by calling 01603 481298

Her Majesty the Queen

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and our thoughts and condolences are with her family at this time.

We remember with warmth the photographs taken of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh surrounded by seven of their great-grandchildren at Balmoral Castle showing the love and affection she had for her growing family.

She will be greatly missed. God save the King.

On behalf of Mike Macnamee, CEO and all in the Bourn Hall Family


Coming off the pill unmasked my PCOS

“I had known it might take my body a while to get back in to the ‘swing of things’ but after I came off the pill to try for a family but my periods just stopped,” says Emerald.

Fertility tests revealed that Emerald has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) a very common cause of infertility that interferes with egg production.  

It is estimated that around one in ten women in the UK have PCOS, a hormone imbalance which can disrupt ovulation. It has a wide variety of symptoms which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat.  To raise awareness of the condition, charity Verity has nominated September as PCOS Awareness Month. 

Symptoms of PCOS

Not everyone has the same symptoms for PCOS and they can range from mild (or even no symptoms at all) to severe. Typical symptoms can include: irregular – or complete lack of – periods; irregular ovulation – or no ovulation at all; reduced fertility; excess facial and body hair; oily skin/acne; hair loss or thinning hair; weight problems – including difficulty losing weight; depression and mood changes. 


Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director of Bourn Hall Clinic says while not all women with PCOS have a high BMI, those that do can improve their chances of having a baby either naturally or with fertility treatment, improving diet and losing weight

He says: “For women with PCOS who struggle to lose weight getting help with nutritional advice and a new exercise regime to boost metabolism and help weight loss can also provide long term health benefits,” he says.

Emerald admits that when she and her husband Robert were going through their infertility struggles, she kept it hidden from people. It was only after successful IVF at Bourn Hall Cambridge, that gave the couple baby Margot, that she has started to be more open about their journey.   

“It is amazing how many women I meet now who have also had IVF and felt embarrassed or that they couldn’t talk about it,” she says. “So, we were all going through it at the same time but ‘not together’. I realise now that supporting each other by sharing the journey is really important.” 

So young when we started trying

Emerald met Robert when she was 18 and came off the pill to start a family after they married.  “I was 24 when we first started trying for a baby. We were young so I never imagined that we would have problems getting pregnant.”

“I had known it might take my body a while to get back in to the ‘swing of things’ but my periods just stopped,” she says. “So I went to see my GP pretty quickly and she was really good and referred me to a gynaecologist. I was sent for lots of different tests including checking my fallopian tubes which were clear. It was an ultrasound scan that picked up I had PCOS. 

“Robert always desperately wanted children and he had tests done which, at the time, identified his sperm had low morphology (shape and appearance). He took the news really well and once we understood what the issues were was just keen to take the next step.” 

Losing weight boosts fertility

If women with PCOS have no other fertility issues, then sometimes gaining a healthy BMI of between 19-35 can be sufficient to stimulate ovulation (egg production). When helped by the fertility drug Clomid and the ovaries carefully monitored this can result in natural conception. 

Emerald continues: “Because of the sperm issue, we were told there was no point in putting me on Clomid to try and regulate my ovulation and it would be better to refer us straight for NHS-funded IVF. Before that could happen, I was told I needed to lose two stone in weight. 

 “I have never been skinny and I knew that I had ‘let my weight go a bit’ but I hadn’t realised by how much… 

“I started doing three or four exercise classes a week and going to the gym after work. I changed my diet as well. It was a massive lifestyle change. 

“We were referred for one cycle of NHS-funded IVF at the end of 2019. We chose Bourn Hall straightaway because I knew all about their history and what they were about.” 

Freeze-all gives body time to recover


Women with PCOS can over respond to ovarian stimulation and it is not uncommon for them to have a ‘freeze all’ when all the embryos are frozen. This gives the body time to recover and Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) has good success rates.  

Emerald explains: “I felt okay about the freeze all. Sadly, our first FET wasn’t successful. It was really hard at that point because we had been in lockdown and it seemed as though everyone was getting pregnant around us. On top of that it was my birthday the week we found out it hadn’t worked so it was all really difficult.  

“Transfer for the next round was in April 2021 and this time Robert was allowed to come with me, it was really reassuring having him in there. 

“Waiting to find out if the treatment had worked was the worst ten days of my life, especially after a failed one. When the pregnancy test was positive, it was such a relief. 

“It was really stressful waiting for the viability scan at Bourn Hall, I was panicking. So, when we saw the little heartbeat, we just all cried, even the nurse, we just sat and cried for a little. It was wonderful.  

Margot was born on 4 February 2022 at Addenbrookes Hospital.  

Still feel the benefits of healthy lifestyle

“Moving forward in terms of managing my PCOS I just know that if I let my weight go up or if I change my lifestyle for the worst then my symptoms will get worse, so it is just not worth it. I have maintained my exercise regime. As soon as Margot was six weeks old I was doing exercise videos at home while she was asleep. 

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is now a priority for me. By the time we had treatment, Robert’s sperm was fine so there is a chance that we might conceive naturally as I am having regular periods.  

“It not, we have got one embryo frozen at Bourn Hall. We definitely want more children so may be going back for that last one.” 

More information

Getting fertility fit can improve your chances of having a baby, either naturally or with fertility treatment. For those concerned about their fertility, including the impact of previous illnesses and medical procedures, it is possible to see a Bourn Hall fertility consultant on a self-funded basis without a GP referral. 

Bourn Hall’s fertility clinics across the East of England provide both NHS-funded and self-funded IVF treatment as well as fertility testing.  Patients across the region who have undergone fertility tests at an NHS hospital and been told they meet the criteria for NHS-funded IVF can ask to be referred to Bourn Hall. 

You don’t need to be a Bourn Hall Clinic patient to join the Fertility Support Group – the next meeting is on 14 September and takes place on Zoom. For more information visit the Fertility support group page



Increase in LGBTQ+ people seeking fertility treatment

The number of transgender patients freezing their eggs or sperm has increased noticeably in the last 12 months, says Katie Warburton, the new Patient Support Specialist at Bourn Hall. She is attending an LGBTQ+ training course to help her and her team provide appropriate support to this growing group of patients.

“Most of the fertility preservation patients within this group are single trans people, but now we are also starting to see couples that have transitioned returning with partners for fertility treatment with their frozen eggs or sperm, which is really satisfying,” she says.

The tailored advice will include ways to boost your natural fertility, recommendations for tests and explanation of what the results will tell you and discussion of the treatment options that are relevant to you.

Fertility preservation gives options

Some medical interventions such as hormone treatments or surgery can damage eggs and sperm so freezing these gametes before treatment keeps open the opportunity to have your own biological children later in life. Awareness is increasing that cryopreservation before gender reassignment is available and Bourn Hall is offering this service to more patients, often through the NHS.

Katie explains: “All aspects of fertility preservation and treatment are highly regulated, and we have a duty of care to provide all the information and support to our patients during their treatment journey as well as explaining the options and future implications of the treatments offered.

“There is a considerable amount of paperwork and consent forms required during treatment. To help patients with this we have implemented an online consenting system, and I was involved in facilitating its launch and introduction into the clinic.”

With the Fertility Consent system, information is provided at each stage of the process using videos and information sheets and you need to have shown you have understood and agreed before progressing to the next step.

Many patients have said they find the short explanatory videos very helpful.

“In my role as patient support specialist my team provide a dedicated point of contact for transgender patients, patients who are donating eggs or sperm or using a donor for their own treatment, patients undergoing surrogacy and with same-sex couples.

“These cases are more complex and often benefit from extra support, we check in regularly with them to see if they have any questions or queries and offer access to counselling as appropriate.

“In addition to providing surrogacy treatment for women who are unable to carry a pregnancy themselves, we have successfully treated male same-sex couples using a surrogate. “

“I sincerely hope that we will continue to see an increase in treatments for the LGBTQ+ community, as there is wider awareness that these options are available at Bourn Hall with excellent success rates, with the additional benefit of patients not needing to travel to a London clinic for treatment. My goal is to provide a fully inclusive culture where all of our patients feel supported and cared for throughout their journey at Bourn Hall”

Get in touch to discuss your preservation and treatment options

Have a chat with us before considering procedures that may impact your future fertility.

The supporting patient choice section on our Fertility Blog discusses the options for LGBT+ patients and also the benefits of a regulated clinic for wellbeing and security.

Consider your fertility preservation options ahead of any medical procedure – these may be funded by the NHS depending on eligibility criteria.

If you decide to have fertility treatment you can reduce the cost of treatment by donating sperm or sharing eggs – we would be happy to discuss these options.

Lucy shares infertility story ahead of dream baby’s 1st birthday

Suspected ectopic pregnancy resulted in complications and surgery before IVF success.

One in 80 pregnancies are ectopic and for many women, like Lucy from Cambridgeshire, this can impact their future fertility. Rapid action can be lifesaving, so Lucy has shared her story to raise awareness ahead of the first birthday of her ‘dream baby’ on 9 August.

Lucy’s fertility journey started when she was 23. Lucy and her fiancé George had been trying to conceive for 18 months and saw their GP to get advice.

“I was worried that because I was young the GP would brush me off,” says Lucy. “But they were really supportive and offered me tests for my thyroid function and FSH blood test and George a semen analysis. Everything came back fine.

“The last thing they offered me was to go to Addenbrookes for an HSG when they flush the dye through your tubes… and surprisingly that was absolutely fine too.

“After that I had a normal period. Then, about five days later I started to bleed, which is very out of the ordinary for me. I did a pregnancy test, and it came back positive. The early pregnancy unit said a bit of spotting in early pregnancy can be quite normal.”

The couple, from Linton, then went on holiday to Corfu. “About two days in, I got an awful pain in my side and ended up having a scan in the hospital,” continues Lucy. “They couldn’t see anything wrong so gave me some powerful painkillers and the pain eased. The holiday did end in a lovely way though, as we got engaged.”

Back home, Lucy told her story to her GP, who was very concerned. An appointment was immediately made at the Early Pregnancy Unit at Addenbrookes to have a scan which showed there was fluid in the tubes, but no longer a pregnancy. “They suspected an ectopic pregnancy that was slowly resolving itself,” says Lucy.

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director for Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, explains that an ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilised egg is delayed while progressing down the fallopian tube to the womb. If the pregnancy continues inside the tube, the tube can burst and cause internal bleeding.

“The symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include unusual bleeding, discomfort in the abdomen, shoulder tip pain and fainting. If you experience these in early pregnancy, then you should seek immediate medical help.

“Fertility problems can occur later if the fallopian tubes are damaged or if there is a build-up of fluid in the tubes, known as a hydrosalpinx.”

The couple had planned to get married, but then Covid hit and they decided to postpone the wedding and investigate IVF treatment. George already had a daughter so they knew they would need to self-fund.

“When the fertility clinics re-opened, we chose Bourn Hall near Cambridge to have a fresh start and because the success rates are so good. There I was told that the hydrosalpinx needed to be drained before I could have IVF as the fluid is toxic to the embryo.

“I booked an appointment with a private hospital to have the tube removed and the other checked. When I came around from the operation, the consultant said that the right one was also damaged, and he had removed that too! That was a real shock.

“So, we started IVF at Bourn Hall with my next cycle, it was very quick and it worked first time! All the doctors and nurses were so reassuring. One of the main things we loved about Bourn Hall is that it isn’t a typical ‘hospital’ environment. Hospitals have always given me anxiety. For my egg collection it was so quiet, not hectic at all and this just really helped put me at ease in preparation for my procedure.

Lucy and Polly

“I was on tenterhooks throughout the pregnancy because of everything that had happened, I never really relaxed, but I don’t think you ever do.

“When Polly finally arrived, I just couldn’t believe it. It felt like a dream, I have always wanted to be a mum and George was exhausted and so happy too.”

Now, as the family look forward to celebrating Polly’s first birthday Lucy says that being a mum is “everything and more than I could have imagined.”

Bourn Hall’s fertility clinics across the East of England provide both NHS-funded and self-funded IVF treatment as well as fertility testing. Patients across the East of England who have undergone fertility tests at an NHS hospital and been told they meet the criteria for NHS-funded IVF can ask to be referred to Bourn Hall.

For those concerned about their fertility, including the impact of previous illnesses and medical procedures, it is possible to see a Bourn Hall fertility consultant on a self-funded basis without a GP referral.

If you want to find out more about your fertility health book a consultation now.

Find out more information about ectopic pregnancy Ectopic Pregnancy Trust:

Lucy, George and Poppy

New law extends embryo, sperm and egg freezing to 55 years

Fertility patients will now be able to store their frozen embryos, sperm and eggs for up to 55 years following a change in the law (1 July 2022). Previously storage was for just ten years.

The law also clarifies the situation if a partner dies. If the patient gives consent to sperm, eggs or embryos being used in the event of their death, these gametes and embryos can remain in storage and be used for treatment up to 10 years from the date they pass away.

Donated sperm and eggs can also be frozen and stored for 55 years without the need to renew consent.

Implications for egg freezing

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, says that greater clarity is welcomed, particularly for those who have frozen eggs and sperm for fertility preservation: “Patients freeze eggs and sperm for many reasons, to preserve their fertility if they are about to undergo cancer treatment or hormone therapy for example. These life events can happen when you are in your teens or early twenties and the ten year window was not sufficient.

“Patients going through IVF treatment also store embryos for future treatment or for siblings. Deciding what to do with those embryos, whether to try again, give them to another couple or donate to valuable research, is a big decision and people need time to consider their options. The ten year deadline put an unnecessary stress on those patients.

“The change in the law will have implications for those who have gametes and embryos in storage and will require new and revised consent forms, and we are already working with the HFEA to put those in place.”

HFEA to review consents

Rachel Cutting, the HFEA’s Director for Compliance and Information, said:

“The change in law means that all patients have equal opportunity to store eggs, sperm or embryos for up to 55 years, providing consent is given every ten years. The new law also enables greater accessibility for patients requiring donor sperm and eggs as this material now, too, is available for up to 55 years providing consent is in place.

“Clinics have until 30 June 2023 to contact patients who have eggs, sperm or embryos in storage that are due to expire within the next two years. Consents using the updated or new forms must be in place for patients wishing to store for a further ten years by June 2024.

“For patients who have tried to preserve their fertility through sperm and egg freezing it’s important they keep their contact details up to date so that clinics can re-consent every 10 years. We’ll be working with clinics and key patient facing organisations to ensure these patient groups are aware this important change.”

For more information visit

More information about fertility preservation at Bourn Hall

New law to give paid leave for IVF goes before Parliament today

A private members’ bill proposing that couples undergoing IVF are allowed statutory time off work for appointments and treatment, has its first reading today (20 June 2022). The bill has been brought by MP Nickie Aiken after concerns about lack of legal rights. 

As things stand there is no legal requirement for employers to give staff time off work for IVF treatment. Although many big companies have sections in their codes of practice regarding the protocol when someone is going through fertility treatment, many organisations are unsure of the best way to support their employees. 

“Most workplace protection policies exclude ‘elective’ medical processes, placing fertility treatment in the same category as cosmetic surgery,” says Ms Aiken. 

“I believe IVF treatment should be categorised as ‘antenatal’ and thus patients be given the same work rights. I’m now campaigning to secure a change in the law to ensure individuals and couples are given the rights they deserve at what is already an incredibly stressful time.”  

Survey finds one in five people didn’t tell the boss

Fertility Network UK’s 2021 survey looking at the mental health impact of fertility treatment on workplace performance and job satisfaction found that one in five people did not inform their employer about having fertility treatment and nearly two thirds of people felt the need to hide the real reason for time taken off for appointments and fertility-related illness. 

“The demographics of those people impacted by fertility issues mean they are likely to form a core element of every employer’s workforce,” said Gwenda Burns, CEO of Fertility Network UK. “It is therefore vital that employers are able to support those impacted, so levels of distress associated with fertility treatment are reduced and employees are more likely to be productive and remain in the workplace.”

Ways that employers can help are outlined in recent guidance by the CIPD – which may be useful to show your HR department.

Fertility support at Bourn Hall  

If you are going through fertility treatment and are worried about the implications of it on your work, or how to bring up the subject with your boss, then the Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group may be a place to turn. It is an informal group of people who are going through IVF who might be able to offer advice or share experiences. Read more details on the Fertility Support Group meetings.

Balancing IVF treatment and work has featured in several group meeting, including When to tell your boss you are having IVF.

Bourn Hall offers virtual consultations which are more time-effective for patients who wish to avoid the need to travel to the clinic for a face-to-face consultation, or those that need to balance working in different locations.

More about the Fertility Matters @ Work campaign and how you can support it. 

Cambridgeshire Dad celebrates first Father’s Day after five year wait

A Cambridgeshire man who spent years thinking he may never be a Dad, and even considered going abroad for fertility treatment, is looking forward to spending his first Father’s Day with his baby son.

Fabio, an acoustics consultant, met his partner Lina, an events organiser, through work connections just after Lina had turned 30. The couple were both very family orientated so they soon started trying for a baby.

80% of couples will become pregnant within a year of regular, unprotected intercourse, but for Fabio and Lina it would be another five years before they finally realised their dream of becoming parents.

Fabio remembers the stress of this time: “Lina was very clear that she didn’t want to be an ‘older mum’ as there are so many more risks associated with the pregnancy, so, we really felt like the clock was ticking.

“As a couple Lina and I felt like a family and wanted to grow to what we thought of as the perfect family, with a son and a dog.”

Further adding to the couple’s psychological pressures, many of their friends and families were having children, with people they knew at university having second and third children already.

Eventually after 18 months Fabio and Lina were referred by their GP for hospital tests, which revealed that the couple would not be able to conceive naturally and would need IVF treatment with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). This is when a single sperm is injected directly into the centre of a mature egg using a fine needle to create an embryo in the laboratory. The technique is often recommended to couples where there is an issue with the sperm such as motility (movement).

At that time Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG was one of the few in the country that did not provide any NHS funding for fertility treatment, so the couple would need to self-fund. A private clinic connected to their nearest hospital was having a special offer so the couple saw the consultant there, but soon found they didn’t meet the criteria, as the offer excluded ICSI.

Fabio continues: “When we knew that we were going to have to pay for treatment ourselves, we started looking at all the options, including alternatives to IVF. As I am from Italy and Lina is from Lithuania we considered having IVF abroad, but by the time we totalled up the cost of flights, hotels, meals and taking time off work it was going to be cheaper and more convenient to have the treatment here, so we chose Bourn Hall.”

Lina was happy with the choice: “Everyone at Bourn Hall was so friendly, and we didn’t feel like we were rushed or bothering people. We could also get there easily without having to take lots of time off work – or get on a plane!”

The couple, who live in Cambourne, had a freeze-all cycle where all their embryos were frozen, but just as they were due to continue treatment the UK went into lockdown and the couple had to wait several months for the clinic to reopen. The couple were devastated when the first cycle of treatment was unsuccessful.

“Attention and care during the IVF treatment focuses on the woman for 99% of the time,” says Fabio, “which is fair enough considering the stress that a woman needs to go through during the IVF process. It’s normal that Lina got everyone’s attention after the first failed attempt. I felt extremely sad and powerless – we wanted something so bad but it seemed there was nothing, not even the science, that could help to achieve it. However, I tried to focus my attention on Lina and share with her my natural positivity and support.”

Their second round brought good news. “We found out on Christmas Eve 2020 that we were finally expecting a baby – it was a Christmas miracle!” laughs Fabio.

On 18 August 2021 Fabio and Lina welcomed their son Luciano.

“We were just so glad that he had finally arrived,” says Fabio. “It felt surreal; we had been waiting so long to become parents and finally he was here.”

Now Fabio is looking forward to Father’s Day.

“It has been a real rollercoaster journey for us both and at times I thought that maybe I was never going to be a Dad,” says Fabio. “Now that Luciano is in my life I cannot stop smiling. Celebrating Father’s Day with him for the first time this year is going to be very special indeed.”

Since Fabio and Lina had their treatment NHS-funded IVF has been re-introduced in Cambridgeshire and eligible couples are now entitled to one round of NHS-funded IVF – one fresh and up to two frozen. Bourn Hall, which is commissioned to provide NHS-funded IVF in Cambridgeshire, is holding a webinar on the 28th June aimed at men on their own fertility journey. It will include a discussion by Mr Oliver Wiseman, a specialist in male fertility, on how to boost natural fertility and the options for those with a low sperm count, and a talk by Fertility Counsellor Jackie Stewart about how men can improve their own mental wellbeing and support their partners. To book a place visit

Fabio and Luciano

‘Keep your cool’ – advice for men wanting to be fathers

As the Met Office predicts a high chance of a hot Summer, Bourn Hall fertility expert Mr Oliver Wiseman advises men to take extra care to ‘keep their cool’ if they are wanting to be new dads by next year’s Father’s Day.

Sperm production can be adversely affected by stress, testicles getting too warm and carrying excess body fat.

“An increase in scrotal temperature can temporarily knock the sperm count, so avoid saunas, hot tubs and sunbathing in tight swimming trunks if you want to start a family,” advises Mr Wiseman, who is one of the few urologists in the country to specialise in male fertility.

Improve sperm health

“The good news is that sperm are produced continuously, so in three months it is possible for an otherwise healthy man to boost his fertility and improve sperm health by maintaining a healthy body weight and improving diet.

“Normal levels of testosterone are needed to help produce sperm. But in men that are obese testosterone can be converted into fatty tissue, so a high BMI can significantly affect the sperm count.

“Foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and certain minerals such as zinc can increase sperm count and motility (movement). So, a Mediterranean diet with oily fish, nuts, seeds, citrus fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables is good.”

Mr Wiseman also advises that couples that haven’t become pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse should have a semen analysis.

Semen analysis vital

“If you consider that in 50% of cases there is a male factor contributing to the fertility problems, early assessment of the male side is important. That can be done quickly with a semen analysis. If one semen analysis is abnormal it should be followed by a second analysis three months after the first one.

“A man’s sperm count can be very variable over time, and that’s why we are very reluctant to recommend treatment based on a single semen analysis.”

Restore sperm production

A physical check is also important. A common problem in up to 40% of men with fertility problems is a varicocele, a big dilated bag of veins around the testicle, usually on the left-hand side which can affect sperm production. Mr Wiseman comments it can look like a bag of worms. “We know that repairing a varicocele can over time lead to an improvement in the sperm count.”

“Male infertility is still not talked about enough, and in many cases there is much that can be done through lifestyle changes or simple surgery to boost natural fertility or improve the chances of successful treatment. The first step is getting good advice and then you know what your options are.”

Bourn Hall is hosting a webinar at 7.00 on Tuesday 28 June examining fertility from the male perspective with advice on how to improve the chances of becoming a dad. For more information visit the event page.

Jubilations as Lyla Elizabeth celebrates her first birthday on The Coronation Day anniversary!

Lyla Elizabeth’s link with the monarch doesn’t end there – she was born at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital!

The 2nd June marks an extra special day for one Norfolk couple. While the nation marks the anniversary of The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth and her Platinum Jubilee, Ryan and Tasha will be celebrating the first birthday of their daughter Lyla Elizabeth.

Lyla Elizabeth was born on 2 June 2021 – at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn. Elizabeth is a family name going back two generations. “My mum and great great grandmother both have Elizabeth as their middle names,” explains Tasha.

Lyla Elizabeth was born after fertility treatment at Bourn Hall. Tasha continues:

“I hadn’t had a period for a year, but we hadn’t known for sure what the problem was,” says Tasha. “My GP referred us to Bourn Hall for testing and after that the whole thing was really quick.

“I was told during my first scan that I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).”

Treatment for PCOS

PCOS is a common cause of infertility that affects how the ovaries work; Tasha wasn’t releasing an egg (ovulating) regularly which is why she had so few periods.

Tasha had ovulation induction treatment at Bourn Hall which involved her being prescribed medication to stimulate the development and ovulation of her ovaries so one mature egg was available for timed natural fertilisation.

At the clinic she had regular ultrasound scans and blood tests to check that all was going to plan and then the couple were given a ‘window of opportunity’ to attempt natural conception.

One of the nurses who treated Tasha was Carol Steel, Lead Specialist Fertility Nurse, who has more than 25 years nursing experience in the field of fertility. “Carol was lovely,” says Tasha.

“We found out I was pregnant in October 2020 – it was amazing.”

Peter Rabbit bunting

Lyla ElizabethLyla is now a “lovely, sassy, chatty girl” says her proud mum. She will be celebrating her first birthday at home surrounded by friends and family.

“The rest of the street have got their Jubilee bunting up; we have got Peter Rabbit!” laughs Tasha.

The icing on the cake for Tasha and Ryan will be at their wedding in September – when Lyla will accompany her mum up the aisle as their flower girl.

“We can’t thank Bourn Hall enough,” says Tasha. “Lyla is our little princess.”

IVF clinics’ efforts to keep treatment on track during pandemic praised

Bourn Hall, one of the first clinics to re-open, is now gradually easing visitor restrictions and looking forward to more in-person appointments.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fertility treatment was discussed in a report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published in May 2022. It highlighted that fewer IVF patients had experienced delays to treatment during the pandemic than it first anticipated, but that the NHS is still impacted with delays in referrals.

Julia Chain, Chair of the HFEA, said: “Fertility clinic staff worked incredibly hard to re-open during the pandemic while providing a safe service for patients.

“During this time, patients who were coming to the end of their window of fertility were prioritised to keep their dreams of a family alive.”

Key findings in the report were that dedicated private fertility clinics were quicker to respond than those in the NHS:

  • Reopening: 83 per cent of private clinics and 34 per cent of NHS clinics had approval to reopen during the first week that clinics could apply
  • Treatment recovery: Self-funded IVF cycles topped 2019 levels by July 2020; for NHS-funded IVF cycles this was reached in June 2021.
  • Treatment cycles: There was a 38 per cent decrease in the number of NHS-funded IVF cycles for patients aged 18-34 from 2019 to 2020 compared to a 13 per cent decrease among privately funded patients.

Ms Chain pointed out the differences in the response of dedicated stand-alone IVF clinics (such as Bourn Hall) in comparison to NHS clinics, commenting:

“NHS clinics more commonly had staff redeployed to support other hospital services which could have led to them being slower to resume treatment in 2020. High waiting times for tests or surgery may have delayed treatment too, an aftershock of Covid-19 that we expect will continue for at least another 12-24 months.”

Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall
Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, comments: “The impact of the pandemic on the NHS is still apparent. We are seeing fewer referrals for NHS funded IVF, and in the areas where we provide NHS funded fertility testing and diagnosis, such as Norfolk, there have also been fewer referrals from GPs.

“Age is an important factor in fertility, so it is imperative that patients gain access to early diagnosis of infertility so they are able to consider their options.

“We were delighted that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG resumed NHS-funded IVF last year and NHS treatment is available at Bourn Hall with no waiting times.”

Tears of joy at news that treatment could resume

Bourn Hall patients Jenna and Shaun had been about to start treatment for a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) at the Cambridge clinic in March 2020, just a few days before lockdown was announced and clinics were told to close.

For Jenna, aged 36, this was devastating. “Just days before I was due to start the medication I was told the transfer had been cancelled,” she says. “I was desperate for it to go ahead but the decision was taken out of our hands.”

Bourn Hall was one of the first IVF clinics approved by the HFEA to reopen during the pandemic.

Jenna and Shaun with Ray and Evelyn
Jenna and Shaun with Ray and Evelyn

“When we heard the Health Secretary announce that IVF treatment could resume we were over the moon,” says Jenna. “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.”

Two of Jenna and Shaun’s embryos were thawed for embryo transfer on 25 June 2020 and Jenna went in for the procedure; owing to the tight Covid-19 restrictions Shaun was not allowed to be present.

A fortnight later a pregnancy test confirmed that the couple were to finally become parents. Twins Ray and Evelyn were born on 16 February 2021.

“We were fortunate that Bourn Hall is not part of a hospital so we were able to get in and out without meeting anyone except staff, which I think would have been more reassuring for more nervous patients,” says Jenna “Also we didn’t feel that we were taking NHS staff away from life critical treatments.”

Read more about Jenna and Shaun’s fertility journey.

No waiting times for treatment and a return to normality

Bourn Hall is now looking forward to gradually easing some of the restrictions which have been kept in place for the safety of patients during the pandemic, including inviting partners back into the clinics for scans and transfers and a phased re-introduction of face-to-face consultations.

Annie Cant, Nursing Development Director
Annie Cant, Nursing Development Director

Bourn Hall’s Nursing Development Director Annie Cant says: “Our patients and staff have been incredibly adaptable to the changes we had to make during the last two years to keep everyone safe.

“We now feel that as the country starts to come out of the pandemic the time has come to relax some of the restrictions we had in place which limited the numbers of visitors to our clinics. The staff are really looking forward to welcoming more of our patients in person through the doors and getting back to normal.”

Bourn Hall’s clinics based in Cambridge, Norwich and Wickford treat NHS-funded and self-funded IVF patients. In Norfolk Bourn Hall is also commissioned to provide NHS fertility testing and Ovulation Induction and all three clinics offer self-funded fertility testing. Bourn Hall has no waiting times for any of its NHS or self-funded services.

International Nurses Day: Bourn Hall fertility nurses ‘take the lead’

Fertility nurses with combined experience of 75 years have been appointed to senior leadership roles at Bourn Hall in recognition of their contribution to the clinic, and are receiving bespoke leadership training to help them make the transition. The announcement comes on International Nurses Day (12th May 2022), which this year has the theme ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in Nursing’.

Leona Crookston
Leona Crookston

The nurses Leona Crookston, Joanne Sharman and Kathryn Rayner have brought skills gained from other disciplines such as gynaecology and midwifery and have progressed through Bourn Hall’s training programme for fertility nurses. To complement their professional development, they are now receiving leadership training.

Nicola Graver, Human Resources Director at Bourn Hall, comments: “Fertility nursing is a highly specialised discipline within nursing and our nurses are very much on the ‘front line’ of what we do.

“By providing personal development training, they will have a toolbox of skills and techniques to make the transition into leadership roles.”

Leona and Joanne have been appointed joint Lead Nurses at the Cambridge clinic whilst Kathryn has been appointed Lead Nurse at the Norwich clinic.

Joanne Sharman

In addition to NHS IVF treatment, Bourn Hall Norwich also provides the NHS level 2 service, which includes fertility testing and diagnosis and treatment with monitored Ovulation Induction. Kathryn has helped to develop this service, which gives guidance to couples and helps many to get pregnant naturally. Leona and Joanne developed and ran the ‘Fertility Health and Wellbeing Service’, which is available for self-funded patients at all of Bourn Hall’s clinics across the East of England.

Kathryn Rayner, Lean Nurse
Kathryn Rayner

“Not surprisingly, Leona, Joanne and Kathryn are all doing brilliantly in their new roles,” says Nicola. “All three are highly experienced fertility nurses who have each demonstrated their leadership credentials.”

Nicola says: “It takes a very special kind of person to become a fertility nurse and we know from our patients just how much they remember and value the support and guidance they get from our wonderful team.”

Show your support for our wonderful nursing team by sharing your stories about a colleague or a nurse that has given you care or support on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BestOfNursing and #NursesDay.

Read more stories about our staff in our celebration for International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

Bourn Hall Essex’s first baby, Bear, celebrates his third birthday

Bourn Hall Essex is celebrating the third birthday of Bear, the first baby born after IVF at the new purpose-built clinic. Since treatments started at the clinic it has welcomed 133 babies and awaits the birth of many more. With fertility, every month counts and fertility specialists are concerned that Covid is still putting dreams on hold.

Bear and his birthday guinea-pig
Bear and his birthday guinea-pig

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

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

First of 133 Essex IVF babies and counting

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

Bourn Hall has an excellent reputation for IVF treatment, and the success rates are pleasing to Lead Embryologist Anne O’Leary, who says: “The birth rate is well above the national average and we are hoping to announce our 200th baby in the Autumn.”

Since the clinic started procedures in August 2018, 517 women have had IVF, resulting in 194 pregnancies and 133 babies born so far.

Anne continues: “Covid continues to put extra pressure on infertile couples, who have had treatment put on hold or delayed. We are now operating at full strength and we have no waiting lists for testing or treatment and urge couples to make up for lost time by gaining specialist fertility advice.”

Don’t wait too long

Fertility declines with age and delays in fertility testing at hospitals have put further pressure on couples. A report, ‘Left too Long’, by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has raised concerns that waiting lists for NHS gynaecology appointments have risen by 60% since before the beginning of the pandemic – more sharply than any other speciality.

There is also still a postcode lottery for fertility treatment in Essex, which may mean waiting for testing will not offer any benefit. Bourn Hall provides NHS funded IVF in the areas of Essex where it is available and self-funded treatment across the whole region.

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

However, Lead Clinician Dr Arpita Ray says that many couples can benefit from specialist fertility advice and simple medical treatments, and may not need IVF. “It is worth getting fertility fit. A healthy BMI of between 19 and 30 will improve your chances of conception or successful treatment.

“Also, 30 percent of women who are irregularly ovulating (releasing an egg) can get pregnant naturally with timed intercourse if their ovaries are stimulated with medication – we can give advice on the suitability of this treatment, which is also available on the NHS.”

Bourn Hall appoints its first Sales and Marketing Director

Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has appointed its first Sales and Marketing Director. Richard Walters, formerly the Commercial Director for strategic content marketing agency CPL, is to join the senior management team full-time after a period of secondment.

The clinic, which treats self-funding and NHS-funded patients from its clinics in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk, announced a substantial investment by Triangle Healthcare Partners in January 2021.

This investment and the recent pandemic have created an opportunity to rethink the way that services are offered. Richard will be directing the clinic’s marketing activities and patient services teams.

Bourn Hall CEO Mike Macnamee says: “We are delighted to have Richard on board as we start the next phase of our growth. His focus will be on ensuring that the clinic is patient-centric and their experience is the best that it can be.”

Richard has significant experience in client care in a commercial setting and has supported patient focussed organisations such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the British Psychological Society, and the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). Before joining CPL, he was the MD at Ten Alps Media and Mongoose Media.

Richard says “I have been made so welcome during my time with Bourn Hall; everyone is so passionate about what they do, it has been humbling to work alongside the teams here. The opportunity to help further develop what we do is extremely exciting – I am lucky to have a family myself and I am proud to be working with people that make a genuine difference to people’s lives and families.”

Meet more of our Bourn Hall family.

Legacy of the ‘mother of IVF’ Jean Purdy celebrated at Bourn Hall

The life of embryologist Jean Purdy is being remembered this Mother’s Day with the dedication of a plaque at Bourn Hall near Cambridge, the world’s first IVF clinic she co-founded in 1980. Her tireless work on IVF alongside Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards has helped millions of women worldwide to become mums.

Jean was at the birth of the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby, Louise Brown, and was a good friend to Grace MacDonald, mum to the first IVF boy, and to Jenny Joy, daughter of Professor Edwards. It was therefore fitting that Louise, Grace and Jenny unveiled the plaque to Jean at Bourn Hall alongside Dr Kay Elder, who joined Bourn Hall in 1984, and shared their memories of the ‘Mother of IVF’.

[Main image above shows Kay Elder, Grace MacDonald, Louise Brown and Jenny Joy unveiling the plaque at Bourn Hall Cambridge]

Covid had delayed the celebration to mark the clinic’s 40th anniversary in 2020, and as access is still restricted only a small representation of patients were able to attend.  An early patient, Angela Roberts came with her IVF twin girls Nikki and Becky and granddaughter Cleo who is also a Bourn Hall baby. Angeliqua Smith, who has PCOS, a common cause of female infertility, came with her baby daughter and Claire and Alex Martin, who conceived their baby after treatment for male infertility.

Mike MacnameeDr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, explains the significance of Jean’s role as an embryologist: “Jean was a nurse in Cambridge before accepting the opportunity to work with Professor Edwards at the University. Edwards had a breakthrough in 1969, when the first human egg fertilised outside of the body survived for five days, reaching blastocyst stage. This showed that IVF was possible.

“However, it would be 10 long years and many disappointments until the team’s success with the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise. During this time Jean developed the embryology techniques, supported the patients, and kept it all going.”

Jenny Joy worked with Jean when the clinic first opened and remembers her like an aunt: “I was incredibly fond of Jean. There’s no doubt that her contribution was immense on all sorts of different levels.

Jenny Joy

“When plaques were being put up, recognising the contribution that dad and Patrick had made, my father did actually try to get Jean named, because he always said, ‘there are three of us involved in the project, not two, and you should be recognising Jean Purdy’. She was like the glue that stuck them together, but unfortunately at the time it fell on deaf ears.

“When they were looking for a clinic to set up in Cambridge, she found Bourn Hall. Initially they wanted to set up an NHS clinic and that just didn’t work out. My father would be absolutely delighted to know that she is by the door on the way into Bourn Hall.”

Louise Brown Louise Brown comments: “This is a very special day. I’m just so glad Jean Purdy is finally getting the recognition she deserves; it is what Bob and Patrick always wanted. My mum always said it’s not just about the babies being born; it is about creating families. Without IVF she wouldn’t have had me or my sister or her grandchildren.”

The current patients agree with Louise.

Nikki, Angela, Becky and CleoAngela Roberts from Bedfordshire had successful treatment in 1990 and is now a grandma. Nikki’s daughter Cleo was conceived at Bourn Hall with IUI. Angela says: “If it hadn’t been for IVF, my girls wouldn’t be here, and nor would Cleo be here. It’s an absolutely wonderful thing”

Angeliqua and IsabellaAngeliqua Smith from Luton has PCOS, a common cause of female infertility that causes irregular ovulation. She came with her mum and baby daughter, Isabella. “It is magical being a mum,” says Angeliqua. “There is so much frequent joy in everyday moments, when she says a new word or starts laughing or smiling or just does something completely unexpected. It is just lovely doing things together with her.”

Alex, Claire and RobinClaire and Alex Martin from Hitchin came with their son Robin, who was conceived after treatment for male infertility. “To us, IVF means hope,” says Claire. “When Robin was born, and he was put on my chest I just burst into tears. We both looked at him and said, ‘we have been waiting so long for you!’ He was so beautiful.”

“He means everything to us,” Alex adds. “This little dude has come into our life and it is amazing.”

Read more about Jean Purdy.

Read more about the history of Bourn Hall here.

The story was featured on the BBC OneShow

83% of respondents say ‘level up IVF care’ to BLMK CCG

Level up or level down? A consultation about IVF treatment by the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (BLMK CCG), has found that 82.3% of respondents support levelling up to provide a consistent pathway for all NHS patients, removing the postcode lottery.

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.

Over 1,000 people responded to the consultation, which also covered other aspects of healthcare. 69.7% of participants were concerned about changes to the specialist fertility services.

Of the 632 people that responded to questions on options for fertility provision, 56.6% had been impacted by infertility themselves or had a relative that was, 33.9% were interested members of the public, and 2.8% were healthcare professionals.

Current situation

NICE guidelines* recommend that all couples that have failed to become pregnant after unprotected intercourse for over two years should be offered three full cycles of IVF (fresh and frozen).

Currently residents of Luton that meet the eligibility criteria are offered three cycles but those in Milton Keynes, Central Bedfordshire and Bedford Borough are offered a single cycle.

Currently specialist fertility treatment is only available to those that have a fertility issue or unexplained infertility for over three years; it is not available to fertile people that require donated sperm such as same sex couples, single women and trans individuals.

Research by the Scottish Government has found that less than 10% of eligible patients require all three cycles.

The consultation offered two options:

  1. To reduce the offer from three cycles to one cycle of IVF to patients in Luton and extend access to the service to a broader group including those with protected characteristics.
  2. To increase the provision to three cycles for patients up to 39 years, for NHS patients in Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes in line with the current Luton model and extend access to those with protected characteristics

82.3% of people voted for option 2: to provide three cycles of treatment to all eligible patients across BLMK.

The consultation also received formal responses

Bourn Hall has been providing NHS treatment to the people of Bedfordshire for many years and has welcomed the opportunity to provide our own clinical insights, gained from more than 40 years of treating IVF patients, to the CCG consultation. In 2019 the live birth rate for NHS patients in Bedford was 43%, which is significantly above the national average, but for those from Luton – where three cycles are available – it was nearer to 70%.

Fertility Network urged the CCG to look at the NICE guidelines, which provide detailed advice on what is clinically- and cost-effective.

The findings of the report and the policy recommendations will be discussed at the BLMK CCG Governing Body meeting on 29 March 2022.

Details of the consultation are available here and details about the meeting here.

*In 2004 NICE produced clinical guidelines based on evidence. It recommended that three 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 three years.

Weakness in a molecular motor is a reason why human eggs fail

New findings by Max Planck researchers at Bourn Hall offers potential to reduce errors.

Human eggs may be more prone to errors than other mammals due to shortage of a protein that acts as a ‘molecular motor’ and helps to stabilise the spindle structures that are important in early development of the egg, researchers from the Max Planck Society based at Bourn Hall have discovered. Their work published in Science* reveals a potential method for reducing the chromosome segregation errors that can cause genetic disorders.

Cause of miscarriage

Dr Melina Schuh, Director of the Department of Meiosis at the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences, says that incorrect chromosome numbers in eggs – aneuploidy – is the main cause of miscarriages and age-related infertility.

Melina Schuh
Dr Melina Schuh

“Eggs have the wrong number of chromosomes because of a failure in chromosome distribution by the spindle. Our previous work, also in collaboration with Bourn Hall**, showed that human spindles are often unstable, leading to errors. Now we discovered that the reason of this is because they lack a particular protein. By increasing this protein we were able to improve spindle stability and reduce the risk of aneuploidy in human oocytes.”

Role of molecular motor

Molecular motors are biological machines responsible for movement inside the cell. During its formation, the immature egg, or oocyte, divides so that only half the maternal genetic material remains in the mature egg. To enable this to happen a spindle structure is formed that pulls the chromosomes apart. If the egg gets this wrong the resulting embryo will have too many or too few maternal chromosomes, a condition known as aneuploidy.

Research by Dr Melina Schuh’s group, has revealed remarkable differences in spindle organization in different mammals. Humans were found to be deficient in the molecular motor KIFC1 (kinesin superfamily protein C1), a key spindle-stabilizing factor found in the oocytes of other mammalian species.

Dr Schuh explains: “Our data reveals a cause of the differences in spindle stability and provides a potential method for reducing chromosome segregation errors in human oocytes.”

“By delivering a defined amount of KIFC1 protein into human oocytes, we were able to rescue spindle instability and reduce the risk of aneuploidy in human oocytes,” adds Dr Chun So, postdoc in Dr Schuh’s lab, and the first author of the study.

Bourn Hall supporting research into why human eggs fail 

Immature human oocytes are not available in large quantities, which makes it challenging to gain mechanistic insights into the organization of spindle poles and the causes of spindle instability during human meiosis. For this reason, Dr Schuh’s department has a satellite laboratory at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, where many of the early treatments for infertility were pioneered and there is a continuing commitment to improving patient outcomes.

Carousel - Martyn headshot
Martyn Blayney

Martyn Blayney, Science Director at Bourn Hall, is one of the authors. He comments: “Sadly, many pregnancies do not go to full term. Through our previous collaborations with Melina Schuh’s researchers we have gained insights into why this is so, particularly around how eggs decline in quality with age. This new work looks at the role of the molecular motor at a very early stage of egg development and potentially how its operation can be enhanced.

“Although this information does not translate into improved treatment in the near term, knowledge of infertility on a molecular level does provide the opportunity for new targets for future medicine. We are always immensely grateful to the patients that donate immature eggs and enable this valuable science to progress.”

Human females are born with thousands of immature eggs and each month only one reaches the right level of maturity to be fertilised. The remainder are lost gradually until the woman is about 53 when they are all gone, and she reaches menopause. For IVF, the ovaries are stimulated to increase the number of mature eggs available for collection. At Bourn Hall, patients are given the option to donate to science some of the immature eggs that are not suitable for treatment.


*Mechanism of spindle pole organization and instability in human oocytes. So et al., Science 375, eabj3944 (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abj3944

Human oocytes are deficient in the molecular motor KIFC1 (kinesin superfamily protein C1), a key spindle-stabilizing factor in oocytes of other mammalian species.

Spindle stabilization is likely achieved via the formation of static crosslinks along parallel microtubules at the poles and the alignment of antiparallel microtubules in the central region of the spindle. Because human oocytes are deficient in KIFC1, the researchers propose that the deficiency of these activities renders their spindles unstable.

**Holubcova 2015, Science

Secret heartbreak of infertility – friends and family urged to speak up

‘Hidden grief’ makes IVF an easy target to cut says Fertility Network UK

Fertility Network UKFertility Network UK is urging family and friends of people struggling with infertility – and seen the impact on their lives – to participate in a consultation (closing 21st December) on NHS funded-IVF treatment across Luton, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes. Only Luton offers the recommended three cycles of treatment and local commissioners want to cut this so that all areas have just one.

Gwenda Burns, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK, says: “Yearning for a baby can damage mental well-being and destroy relationships, but often couples hide the pain. Time is running out to have a say and It is really important that commissioners hear from those who don’t have fertility issues, as well as those that do, about the devastating impact infertility has on the quality of life.”

Gwenda explains that: “It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that everyone who meet the eligibility criteria should have three full cycles funded by the NHS as this offers the best chance of success. We would like to see this guidance followed in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes.”

In Scotland, where 3 cycles are provided on the NHS, the decision was based on evidence that showed that less than 10% of patients would need this full level of treatment, so the higher success rates of over 60% were justified by the small additional cost.

IVF birth rates have increased since this research was completed with Bourn Hall, provider of NHS funded IVF treatment to patients across the East of England reporting over 70% of patients becoming pregnant within 3 cycles. Sadly, the postcode lottery means that only some of the NHS patients it treats will be eligible for their best chance of success.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, says: “Effective fertility treatment requires repeated exposure to the opportunity to conceive and the link between increased female age and reduced chance of success is well recognised. So, the best patient outcomes are when treatment happens in the shortest time frame possible.”

Bourn Hall patients Eloise and her husband Ian lived in Luton when they were referred for IVF and were entitled to three fresh cycles (defined as three fresh IVF treatments including transfer of any frozen embryos created during treatment). The couple conceived on their second frozen embryo transfer after two fresh cycles – if they had lived in Bedford they wouldn’t have their baby girl.

Infertility is a type of grief and Eloise says she told few people about how she was feeling: “I do think infertility is something that you have to go through to really understand, but my mum was also deeply affected; grieving the loss that it hadn’t worked and also sad for us because it wasn’t happening.”

Eloise with husband Ian and their daughter
Eloise with husband Ian and their daughter

It is this private grief that makes it easier for commissioners to consider cutting NHS funding. Gwenda Burns concludes: “If you haven’t already, please respond to the consultation and let them know what you think before it closes on December 21 – and also please try to get as many of your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues as you can to do it too!”

Details of the consultation questionnaire here – There are more details about the consultation itself here –…/blmk-policy-consultation/

The current provision for NHS funded IVF in East Anglia (with Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes highlighted):

NHS IVF Funding Map for East of England (Bedford, Luton, Milton Keynes Dec 21)

Find out more about NHS funding for IVF in our blog.

Bourn Hall brings Santa back to Wickford for some early Christmas magic

Meeting Father Christmas is a magical experience for children, but also their parents, as two Essex mums discovered this weekend at the Wickford at Christmas Street Fair. Both women had previously struggled with infertility so this special moment with their children was a dream come true.

Shanna from Basildon and Leonie from South Ockendon both conceived babies after successful IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic in Wickford. The clinic is once again sharing the joy by sponsoring the Father Christmas grotto at the Wickford at Christmas Street Fair – which it has been doing since 2017.

‘Heartwarming,’ is how Shanna describes the experience. She always knew her chances of having a baby were slim, as she had cancer as a baby and the treatment can damage your eggs and she was later told her fallopian tubes were blocked by endometriosis. Fortunately, her eggs had survived and she now has two IVF children, Henry (8) and Arabella (3).

Little miracles

Bourn Hall Fertility Nurse Specialist Angela Leach joined the families on Sunday with her colleague Katie Rees, also a fertility nurse specialist at Bourn Hall.

Katie Rees and Angela Leach with Linda Harrison from Wickford at Christmas
Bourn Hall Fertility Nurse Specialists Katie Rees (L) and Angela Leach (R) with Linda Harrison from Wickford at Christmas (centre)

Angela says: “Christmas is all about families and at Bourn Hall we understand that this time of year can be particularly difficult for those who want a baby more than anything in the world.

“But Christmas is also a time of hope and every year Bourn Hall helps hundreds of couples to achieve a little miracle, we look forward to seeing many more ‘Bourn Hall Babies’ excited to see Santa in the years to come.”

First baby conceived at new Wickford clinic

Bear, aged two and a half, was the first baby to be born following treatment at Bourn Hall’s new state-of-the-art clinic, which opened in Wickford in 2018. His mum Leonie met husband Chris at 19 and had always wanted children, but was concerned that an operation on her ovaries as a teenager may have affected her chances.

Bear was conceived after NHS-funded treatment and Leonie clearly remembers when she got a positive pregnancy test for the first time. “I was so excited that I drove to Tesco in my pyjamas to buy more pregnancy tests just to double-check it was true!”

“Taking Bear to see Father Christmas was lovely and it was so nice to share the experience with another Bourn Hall mum too. I think we were just as excited, if not more, than our children!”

Shanna agrees: “Taking Arabella to meet Father Christmas and to see my fertility nurse Angela again has been a lovely experience for us both and we will always remember it.”

Making up for lost time

The Wickford at Christmas Fair was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, which also affected fertility treatment. Bourn Hall had to close for a few months during the first national lockdown in March 2020 but was one of the first to meet the HFEA requirements to reopen and did so by transforming the way it works. The Wickford clinic has introduced remote working and virtual consultations, strengthened its team and links with GP practices, to provide a responsive service to patients and help them make up for lost time.

Shanna with Arabella; Bourn Hall’s Angela Leach; Leonie with Bear
Shanna with Arabella; Bourn Hall Fertility Nurse Specialist Angela Leach; Leonie with Bear

Celebrations as 1000 babies are ‘Bourn’ in Norfolk

One thousand babies have been born following IVF treatment at the Bourn Hall Norwich Clinic – eight years after it opened its doors. Some of the most recent parents shared their stories to encourage others to seek support.  

Dr Nausheen Mawal, Consultant Gynaecologist and IVF specialist at Bourn Hall, said: “One in six couples struggle to conceive.  We are able to  help many conceived naturally with medication, minor surgery or lifestyle changes, but there remain a few for whom IVF treatment is the only option. 

Bourn Hall provides NHS fertility testing to Norfolk patients and fertility treatments including ovulation induction to improve the changes of natural conception. Bourn Hall also offers self funded IVF treatment and NHS funded IVF where couples meet eligibility criteria.  

Dr Mawal continues: “The biggest cause of infertility is age; women lose their egg quality gradually up to 35 and then more rapidly. So, if you have been trying to conceive for a couple of years, or less if you are over 35, then do have a chat with one of our fertility nurse specialists. 

 “Infertility impacts your quality of life and relationships, getting advice from your GP or a fertility specialist can help your mental wellbeing.” 

 Joining Dr Mawal was Kirsty, mum to Jenson and Vicki and Ricky, parents to four-year-old Dylan and six-week-old twins Elliot and Jack. 

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting a virtual Fertility Fair which is taking place throughout National Fertility Awareness Week starting on November 1. On Saturday November 6 there will also be the opportunity to ask questions in a live one-on-one confidential chat with specialist fertility nurses, fertility consultants, a nutritionist and patient support advisers. 

Kirsty and Dan’s story 

 “I was about to turn thirty and became more aware of my biological clock ticking,” says Kirsty. “I’d always told myself that if there was ever an issue with not being able to conceive that I would get advice about it because I didn’t want to leave it too late.” 

Kirsty and husband Dan had been trying for a baby for 18 months when their GP referred them for fertility tests at Bourn Hall Norwich which provides the NHS fertility diagnostic testing in Norfolk. 

 “The fertility consultant at Bourn Hall was interested in my history of heavy and painful periods and sent me for a hospital laparoscopy.” This revealed that both Kirsty’s fallopian tubes – that take the eggs to the womb – were blocked, and she would never have been able to get pregnant naturally.  

“Finding out that the reason that we couldn’t conceive was actually a relief. The unknown was really frustrating especially when friends were getting pregnant and I was thinking. ‘why not me? The ‘not knowing why’ seemed like the worst part. With a fertility diagnosis we were able to move forward with the appropriate treatment at the Bourn Hall Norwich Clinic which enabled us to have a baby.” 

 Jenson was born on October 20 last year and recently celebrated his first birthday. “It was so lovely when he finally arrived. Our family was complete,” says Kirsty. “What I would say to other couples struggling to conceive, particularly if you suffer with painful periods, is to push for the tests you need, so you can understand your options.” 

Kirsty with her son Jenson and Dr Nausheen Mawal
Kirsty with her son Jenson and Dr Nausheen Mawal

Vicki and Ricky’s story 

“We had hoped that we would be able to start a family as soon as we had got married,” says Vicki. “It seemed as though everyone around us was falling pregnant with amazing ease and we had hoped we would find it easy too.” 

 After fertility tests revealed that Vicki and her husband Ricky would need IVF, the couple had IVF with ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) treatment at Bourn Hall which involved directly injecting one of Ricky’s sperm in to one of Vicki’s mature eggs before transferring it to her womb. 

Their treatment was successful first time. “Nine months later our gorgeous Dylan turned up and life changed for the better,” smiles Vicki. 

 The couple returned to Bourn Hall for further treatment last year and Vicki didn’t need a pregnancy test to tell her that she was pregnant two weeks later. 

“We were given the date to do the pregnancy test, but I didn’t need to wait that long to know,” she laughs. “A couple of days before my test date the morning sickness kicked in, very early and very real! 

“We now have three beautiful boys, Dylan has just started school and is accompanied on the school run every day by his twin brothers Jack and Elliot. 

“Without the amazing team at the Bourn Hall Norwich Clinic we wouldn’t be where we are now with the most beautiful family that we were not sure we would ever have.” 

Vicki and Ricky with their three children
Vicki and Ricky with their three children

Support for the fertility journey 

For many couples struggling to conceive it can come as a complete shock whilst others may already have a reason to suspect they might struggle to conceive.   

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting a virtual Fertility Fair and on Saturday November 6 there is an opportunity for a one-on-one confidential chat with specialist fertility nurses, fertility consultants, a nutritionist and patient service advisers. 

To find out more and register for the event go to Fertility Fair offers support for your fertility journey – Bourn Hall Clinic  

Bourn Hall enhances its commitment to patient care

Personalised treatment has always been at the heart of care at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. The pioneers realised that giving patients a place of sanctuary was as important as appropriate treatment and medication to secure successful IVF outcomes. Now the clinic has appointed Lee Willmott to manage the Patient Services team and drive forward the clinic’s commitment to the highest quality of patient care at every stage of the patient journey.

Lee was previously the Patient Advocacy Manager at Amgen and has a strong track record in the life-science and healthcare sectors. She has worked closely with patient groups and sees some of the recent changes to service delivery brought on by the pandemic – such as virtual appointments – as a distinct advantage for some patients, enabling patients to engage with their healthcare teams more flexibly.

Best possible outcome

She says: “Infertility puts a huge pressure on mental wellbeing and treatment undoubtedly creates a rollercoaster of emotions. The relationship that our team has with patients is critically important to ensure the best possible outcome.

“We are looking at how the changes made through necessity, can shape new initiatives to further improve the patient journey. For example, online appointments have made it much easier for couples to attend consultations together, but from separate locations, without needing to take time off work.

“We have also been running the Fertility Support Group, led by an independent fertility counsellor, virtually, and have found that attendance has increased as people can log in from home with networking supported by a social media platform moderated by patients themselves.

“The Bourn Hall team is passionate about helping people achieve their dream of creating their family. I am looking forward to supporting them by bringing my experiences gained from other healthcare sectors to this role.”

Personalised treatment

Lee will be based at Bourn Hall Cambridge and has overall responsibility for the patient services teams at Cambridge, Norwich and Wickford.

Dr Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall, worked with the founders to develop the first generation of fertility medicines, innovation in treatment and laboratory techniques and has seen significant advances in embryology including recent work which is creating a greater understanding of egg and embryo development.

He welcomes Lee’s arrival: “Our knowledge of the science is increasing our ability to tailor personalised treatment, but of equal importance is the patient communication and support. Lee brings a rich combination of new skills to our team that will complement the medicine. We are delighted to have her on board.”

Fertility Fair 6th November

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting a virtual Fertility Fair which is taking place throughout National Fertility Awareness Week. On Saturday November 6 there will also be the opportunity to ask questions in a live one-on-one confidential chat with specialist fertility nurses, fertility consultants, a nutritionist and patient support advisers.

During the week (1-6 November) visitors will be able to explore the different information booths and find out more about the main causes of infertility, as well as what they can do to boost their chances of a successful pregnancy.

To find out more and register for the event visit the Fertility Fair page.

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,

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

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 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.”


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 

To donate to Endometriosis UK and support their work visit:

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

(Updated: 12 October 2022)

We have put together a list of frequently asked questions to reassure and guide you. 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 questions, please contact us by emailing [email protected].

COVID-19 test FAQS

Q: Can I have a Covid-19 vaccine during my fertility treatment?

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 a 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 and that you do not need to delay your fertility treatment.

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 have a COVID-19 vaccine?

The NHS strongly recommend that you get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you’re pregnant to protect you and your baby. The antibodies your body produces in response to the vaccine can also give your baby protection against COVID-19.

You’re at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 if you’re pregnant. If you get COVID-19 late in your pregnancy, your baby could also be at risk. Evidence shows that most pregnant women with COVID-19 who need hospital treatment or intensive care in the UK have not been vaccinated.

If you’re pregnant and have not had your first 2 doses and booster dose yet, it’s important to get your vaccinations as soon as possible. If you’re pregnant and have been vaccinated, you should have a seasonal booster dose.

It’s safe to have the vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date. You do not need to delay vaccination until after you have given birth.

For more information, please visit the NHS, and HFEA websites and Public Health England.

Covid tests

Q: If I am required to take a Covid-19 test, how do I get a test?

A: If you are having IVF treatment you will be required to do a coronavirus (COVID-19) Lateral Flow Test (LFT) on the day of your trigger injection (or the day before if this is a Saturday) – you will be supplied with an LFT test free-of-charge by your nursing team at your final scan.

For all other testing, COVID-19 rapid lateral flow tests (LFT) should be sourced yourself from the NHS online service or local pharmacy stores. We request that your test result should be registered with the NHS using the QR code on the test.

You can order tests via the NHS website.

Q: What happens if I test positive or develop symptoms of COVID-19?

If you, your partner or a member or your household test positive, we may need to cancel your treatment or procedure. It is important that you contact the nursing team as soon as possible to discuss this.

If you, your partner or a member or your household start to have symptoms of COVID-19 ahead of a procedure or treatment, we advise that you carry out a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). If negative, no further action is required, but we ask that you wear a mask until symptoms resolve and repeat testing if your symptoms continue.

Should you or your partner present as symptomatic at the clinic, our team will ask you to do a Lateral Flow Test (LFT).

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.

The clinic and COVID-19

Q. How has Covid-19 affected NHS funding for fertility investigations or IVF?

All fertility treatments were initially suspended on 23 March 2020 (including NHS funded treatment) along with other NHS funded elected procedures. From week commencing 11 May 2020, fertility clinics, who meet the HFEA criteria and were approved to restart treatments, could begin to re-open subject to strict safety guidelines enforced by the HFEA.

To ensure fair provision, the Health and Social Care Secretary wrote 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 impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fertility treatment was discussed in a report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published in May 2022. It highlighted that fewer IVF patients had experienced delays to treatment during the pandemic than it first anticipated, but that the NHS is still impacted with delays in referrals.

You can read the full report here.

General FAQS

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

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: 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 pandemic 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 advice. 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, or you can join our Fertility Support Group meetings which are currently being held virtually.

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 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 [email protected]. 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 [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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 [email protected].

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

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.


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.

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.


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.


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. ”

NHS funded IVF in Essex

Leonie at Bourn Hall Wickford in 2019
Leonie at Bourn Hall Wickford whilst pregnant with Bear

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.

Baby Bear

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:

Details of the Fertility Awareness Evening are on the Bourn Hall website:

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:

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 Friends 2016


Essex friends 2017


Essex Friends 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.

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.”

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

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:

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.”

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


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.

More information:

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.”



  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.


[*] 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:

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

  1. Consultation paper ‘A healthier future: Let’s Talk IVF and fertility services in Hertfordshire and west Essex’. 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:
  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

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

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 [email protected] 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


“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

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, 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

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 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 or to donate visit: 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% ( 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.