24.9% of British people have stated that their access to healthcare has been affected by COVID-19, but what does that mean if you're mid-IVF treatment?
The short answer is that IVF treatments are still available during the COVID-19 lockdown - but things have obviously changed somewhat, with precautions being taken and safety at the forefront of everyone's minds.
We asked the UK's largest private fertility clinic, CARE Fertility, to explain what you can expect:
What should couples expect from IVF treatment during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Precautions have been put in place to ensure safety for all embryos, patients and embryologists. Before visiting the clinic, patients will be asked to complete a questionnaire to screen whether they have, or may be at risk of, COVID-19, and if they’ve been at risk, patients are offered an antigen test (throat and nasal swab) to check if they currently have the virus.
Staff and patients must sign the HFEA Code of Conduct - agreeing to avoid behaviours that might expose you to risks of Covid-19 infection at work and in private, and to restrict your social interactions as the government advises.
CARE Fertility, uses platforms such as the Patient Portal, which allows the clinic to send all the information patients need to know before treatment, be this medication protocol or consent forms that will need to be completed before resuming treatment.
Some hormone tests, such as AMH, can be performed at home with a simple finger prick test, which you then post back to the clinic to analyse in the laboratory.
Sperm analysis has also resumed, prioritising proper social distancing with a minimal-contact drop off service when the sample is brought to the clinic.
What precautions are being put inside the IVF clinics?
When you enter a clinic, things might look a little different to usual. There may be a protective screen up at reception and waiting rooms, communal areas and staff areas may have been re-configured to help minimise contact with other patients. You may also be asked to wear a face covering when entering the clinic - it doesn’t need to be medical-standard PPE, but anything that covers the nose and mouth will help minimise risk of infection. Most clinics will be able to provide you with one if you don’t own one.
At the moment, patients are being asked not to bring somebody with them to appointments, proper hand washing is being encouraged for everyone in clinics, and clinics have robust, specific cleaning protocols in place for all areas.
Dr Debra Bloor, Group Director of Governance at CARE, previously Chief Inspector of the HFEA and also closely involved with implementing the guidelines commented: “Experts from across the CARE group have worked together as a team to make sure that all of the conditions set out by the HFEA to permit the safe resumption of service have been met. It hasn’t just been a box ticking exercise – we’ve considered every step of the fertility pathway to identify opportunities to reduce the risks to you, your partners, your future children and our staff.”
“We’ve developed a comprehensive operating manual for our local teams to inform them about the changes we’ve implemented as they return to clinic after furlough. We are also continually reviewing HFEA, professional body and government guidelines and our service will continue to evolve as new guidance emerges.”
“Being part of the CARE group has been especially helpful during preparations for the new normal. The expertise we have across our teams is second to none and tapping into that shared knowledge has made us able to respond and adapt quickly and effectively.”
What considerations should couples bear in mind?
In terms of considerations for couples, the key factor is what would happen if you developed COVID-19 during treatment.
The answer is that the clinic would have to pause the patients treatment, however, CARE fertility are helping patients to avoid this by offering COVID-19 tests before and during treatment, as well as asking patients to sign the HFEA Code of Conduct - agreeing to avoid behaviours that might expose you to risks of Covid-19 infection at work and in private, and to restrict your social interactions as the government advises.
Another factor patients are likely to consider is the effect of COVID-19 on those undergoing fertility treatment or those who are pregnant. The UK’s specialist body, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has advised that there is no evidence that COVID-19 infection is any worse in pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage or pregnancy complications. The RCOG has also advised that there is no evidence of babies being born with harm as a result of COVID-19 infection, and the UK Government has not advised people to avoid becoming pregnant.