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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.