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.