Coronavirus has slashed my chances of IVF treatment – The Guardian

Posted: April 26, 2020 at 3:41 am

Accessing NHS fertility treatment involves a tremendous amount of patience at a period in your life when you have least time to spare. It was 14 months after my first tearful appointment with my GP that I lay on an operating table at Manchesters Saint Marys hospital last year, squeezing the anaesthetists hand as he put me under heavy sedation so that a doctor could stick a needle up my vagina to hoover out my eggs. I was 38 and had been told there was a 20% chance IVF would result in me finally becoming a mother.

My clinical commissioning group started a consultation on cutting all funding for fertility treatment

I felt miserable, a failure. Id failed to meet the right man until I was 35 and now my ovaries were failing me too. Coming round from the egg collection, I started blabbering deliriously about a school friend who fell pregnant at 16. We all thought she was nuts to keep the baby. But maybe she had the right idea, I wailed at the nurse, as she handed me a cup of tea and a biscuit.

All of the resulting embryos were frozen so that my body, battered after the hormone injections, could go back to normal. Christmas approached and the clinic began its annual shutdown. More waiting. It wasnt until early March that the doctors allowed me to finally prepare for an embryo transfer and I started taking HRT to override my natural menstrual cycle. It seemed particularly cruel that in order to outsmart my ageing reproductive organs I had to take menopause pills. Still, I thought, it would all be worth it if it worked.

I was supposed to have the transfer the week beginning 23 March. You know what happened next. All fertility treatment was suspended. My embryos would stay in the freezer. For how long? Nobody knows. Ive had a lot of time to brood during lockdown. Sure, being pregnant during a global pandemic wouldnt be much fun, but what if coronavirus takes away my one-in-five shot at motherhood? Where I live, women under 40 are entitled to two NHS-funded IVF cycles (one fewer than recommended by Nice, the national body that advises clinicians). It is not clear whether I will get my second if the clinic does not reopen before I turn 40 next year.

Now I hear Saint Marys the first ever NHS IVF clinic and my local centre may close for ever in April 2021 after hospital bosses said they could not afford a 10m refurbishment. Reproductive medicine is not, it seems, a priority, even when it comes with world-class research in tow. I knew the hospital had seen better days. The day I went for egg collection it had been raining and there were buckets and what looked like incontinence pads catching the drips from the ceiling. Im glad the lift was working that day: I discovered later that for a while staff had had to practise carrying a loaded stretcher downstairs in case they had to evacuate a patient who fell ill under sedation in the weeks before the lift engineer arrived.

It now feels inevitable that IVF will be rationed even further, particularly at a time when the NHS is under so much pressure. Can it afford to help create new life as well as sustain those already in existence? Last year my local clinical commissioning group started a consultation on cutting all funding for fertility treatment, which it said would save almost 700,000 a year. Five other CCGs have already stopped paying for any IVF cycles, according to the Fertility Network. Its a classic postcode lottery: if our house were half a mile away we would get three cycles on the NHS.

The NHS is currently buckling under the strain of coronavirus, and I know Im part of a long line of patients waiting for deferred operations or specialist appointments, many far more urgent than mine. When the worst of the pandemic has passed, a huge backlog awaits not to mention an almighty budgetary black hole, which will surely exacerbate the decline in publicly funded fertility treatment.

I also know that some people may have no sympathy for people like me. We should have procreated at least a decade earlier, maybe even two, like my high-school chum. Having a child is not a human right, particularly on our overpopulated planet.

Perhaps you have your own children, conceived the traditional way. But what if you, like me, were infertile? Would you have sought out NHS treatment to have your precious offspring? Should fertility assistance be yet another luxury available only for the rich? I dont have the answers. I just feel sad.

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Coronavirus has slashed my chances of IVF treatment - The Guardian

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