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.

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Shreeya Tewary


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