IVF: where do you begin?
IVF… not something most of us will plan for on our route to parenthood but for some it can become the only option. But where do you start? The lovely people over at SteadyHealth have answered some questions that those facing IVF may have. SteadyHealth offer unbiased, research based support and have recently reviewed self funded Scottish IVF clinics in particular. 1 in 6 couples in the UK will struggle with fertility and with choosing the right clinic being not only stressful but an incredibly difficult and overwhelming decision to make SteadyHealth want to help couples get through it feeling informed, supported and not alone.
We have included some particularly helpful links from SteadyHealth at the bottom of this article as well.
I’ve been told I need IVF: Will the NHS pay for that?
Maybe. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have standardised access criteria that determine who is eligible for IVF on the NHS. In Scotland, you can be referred for treatment at one of the fertility clinics in Scotland if you’ve been unable to conceive naturally after two years of trying, have had six to eight unsuccessful artificial insemination cycles if you’re part of a lesbian couple, or if you’ve already been diagnosed as infertile — because you have blocked tubes, or your partner has a low sperm count, for example.
You’ll qualify for three NHS-funded IVF cycles if you’re under 40, and one if you’re under 42, if:
- You and your partner have been living together in a stable relationship for a minimum of two years.
- Neither partner smokes, does drugs, or drinks alcohol for the duration of the treatment.
- Your infertility isn’t caused by a prior voluntary sterilisation.
- Your body mass index, as the female partner, is between 18.5 and 30.
- At least one partner doesn’t already have biological children.
- You haven’t already received your full number of NHS-funded IVF cycles, not just in Scotland but elsewhere in the UK too, and neither partner has already received the full number of IVF cycles, even with a previous partner.
Women aged between 40 and 42 also need to be completely “new” to IVF to qualify for their single NHS-funded cycle, and there should be no evidence of a low ovarian reserve.
What about England?
Things are more complex in England, unfortunately. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has guidelines recommending who should be eligible for NHS-funded IVF — those are the ones followed across Scotland. Each of England’s Clinical Commissioning Groups ultimately sets their own IVF access criteria, though. This now infamous phenomenon known as the “IVF postcode lottery” means your place of residence determines whether you’re going to be able to rely on the NHS, or will have to fund your IVF out of pocket.
Data released by the campaign group Fertility Fairness reveals that a mere 12 per cent of English CCGs actually follow NICE guidelines. Sixty-one per cent currently offer no more than one NHS-funded IVF cycle, and seven per cent have simply decided that other things are just more important to them — they’re considering reducing access to IVF treatment, or doing away with it altogether.
All in all, it’s no surprise that despite the fact that a single IVF cycle can easily cost you more than £5,000, 58.7 per cent of all IVF cycles are funded privately! Many people simply have no other choice if they want a shot at parenthood.
Is that all bad?
Paying for your own IVF means you’ll have a lot more flexibility — shorter or no waiting lists, the choice of having several embryos put back in one cycle, and the option of numerous “add-on” treatments, like EmbyroGlue and an endometrial scratch, that can increase your odds of getting pregnant during any one cycle. Most of all, it gives you the chance to pick the clinic that’s right for YOU. That might not take the financial sting out, but could relieve it significantly, especially when you keep in mind that some clinics have “no baby, no pay” schemes and other refund programmes.
So, How Do I Choose A Fertility Clinic?
You’ll ultimately want a clinic that:
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has rated as excellent (five out of five points), showing the clinic has high clinical standards.
- Has excellent success rates, not just in general but for your own age group.
- Provides the treatments you need, obviously.
- Feels right to you — most people will look for a caring environment where they feel like they really matter, not just as a statistic but as a person. You’ll want staff to answer all your questions, support you as you go through IVF, and refrain from trying to sell you treatments you don’t really need..
- Doesn’t have waiting lists.
Finances also factor in, of course, and while most patients will look at fertility clinics close to home and those often offer treatments for similar price ranges, there are indeed differences in cost that you’ll want to look at.
Where do I find all that info?
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority publishes inspection ratings and success rates, while clinics themselves offer information about the range of treatments they provide. Open evenings, clinic tours, and initial conversations with clinics can offer invaluable insights into the clinic’s atmosphere.
A clinic’s website can also say a lot — over the course of reviewing fertility clinics across the UK, we found that some tuck their price lists away in places where you won’t easily find them, and others emphasise their successes while not being very open about the areas in which they’re less successful. No clinic with success rates below the national average is going to advertise that fact! If a clinic says it has the best success rates for women under 35 in the region, but you’re 42, you’re going to want to look at other parameters, as well!
Finally, I think hearing from former patients of the clinic you’re considering — not patient testimonials provided by the clinic, but independent ones — really gives you the chance to find out more. Did the egg collection hurt? Were the fertility consultants willing to answer all questions? What were the nurses’ bedside manners like?
All the info is out there, but finding it all can be a daunting task, especially considering that nine out of 10 patients report feeling depressed over the course of their fertility struggles. This is really why SteadyHealth decided to collect all available information about fertility clinics in each region of the UK and make it accessible in one location. With one in six UK couples facing fertility struggles and a majority of those needing IVF ending up paying for it themselves, the need for transparent, unbiased information is growing.