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.”
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.”
Find out more about our King’s Lynn clinic here.
Read more stories about overcoming PCOS
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