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Fertility services to reopen after temporary Covid-19 closure

Fertility clinics across the UK can apply to reopen from May 11 if they ensure the safety of staff and patients.

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Baby feet (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Baby feet (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Baby feet (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Fertility services will be allowed to reopen after treatment was stopped due to coronavirus, bringing hope to couples trying for a baby, the Health Secretary has confirmed.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said fertility clinics across the UK can apply to reopen from May 11 if they ensure the safety and protection of staff and patients.

Matt Hancock said strict guidelines “will ensure staff and patients remain safe”.

Fertility services were temporarily suspended on March 23 2020 in response to the coronavirus lockdown.

Whilst many private clinics may be able to restart services quickly, the Department of Health and Social Care said it recognises that NHS clinics may require longer to achieve the necessary conditions due to factors including the redeployment of staff in frontline roles.

Therefore, Mr Hancock will write to all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) this week to confirm they are able to begin resuming fertility treatments to those in their area, either through a private clinic or an NHS service, “to ensure fair provision”.

NHS England and NHS Clinical Commissioners are drawing up guidance for CCGs to put in place a framework for resuming services.

The new guidance will allow clinics to reopen only if they can prove measures to protect staff and patients are in place and will mean individuals and couples looking to start fertility treatment will be able to safely continue to do so.

Social distancing will be required in waiting rooms, telephone appointments could be used where suitable and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment will also be provided where necessary, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

An auditing tool will be used to ensure clinics are complying with the guidelines.

Mr Hancock said: “Now that we are past the peak, I am delighted to announce the restoration of fertility services.

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Time lapse images showing an early embryo (Mio Fertility clinic/PA)

Time lapse images showing an early embryo (Mio Fertility clinic/PA)

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Time lapse images showing an early embryo (Mio Fertility clinic/PA)

“People who are relying on fertility treatment have been worried during these unprecedented times not knowing when they could continue their journey to start a family.”

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he added: “Few families have been untouched by the amazing advances in fertility treatments over the past generation and I know just how time-sensitive treatment can be and how important it is for the families affected.

“And I know that this treatment can change lives for the better forever.

“So when I say thank you for all of you, everybody watching, for staying at home to protect the NHS of course I’m saying thank you on behalf of the lives that you’re saving.

“But I’m also saying thanks on behalf of the lives that the NHS can now once again help to create.”

Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: “I am pleased that the HFEA has agreed fertility clinics can apply to reopen from May 11.

“Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to consider how treatment could resume quickly and safely for as many patients as possible and our clear plan sets out how clinics can treat and care for patients safely during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

“I know that the closure of clinics has been extremely distressing for patients and this will be good news for those wanting to resume treatment and have the opportunity to try for their much longed for family.”

Geeta Nargund, lead consultant for Reproductive Medicine at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, added:“We are delighted that IVF services  are opening soon.

“We thank the Government for recognising the distress faced by thousands of women and couples across our nation and acting swiftly to help them.

“We must ensure that effective social distancing and safety measures are put in place so that we can not only help save lives but start creating lives again.”

PA