Did you know the first baby conceived via In vitro fertilisation (IVF) was born in the UK? In the 40 years since fertility treatment has become a big industry in the UK. If you are a newcomer to the UK and are considering seeking fertility treatment, here are 10 things you should know:
There are many UK-specific acronyms! The first big hurdle to seeking healthcare in a new place is learning the language. Fertility treatment anywhere involves a lot of acronyms but there are many that are unique to the UK. NHS: National Health Service HFEA: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority NICE: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence CCG: Clinical Commission Group GP: General Practitioner
You may be eligible for NHS Funding. Most healthcare in the UK is done through the NHS which residents pay for through taxes. In the process of applying for a visa, you may have been required to pay a surcharge to the NHS to cover your healthcare while here. If so you may be eligible for NHS funding for fertility treatment! Talk to your GP (like a family doctor) about your options.
There is a postcode lottery for funding. While the NHS is national, it is made up of many CCGs. These groups each decide how they will fund healthcare for the residents in their area. The NICE Guidelines recommend individuals be offered 3 rounds of IVF but CCGs will decide how many cycles they will fund. They also set eligibility criteria like upper and lower BMI limits. Thus what is available to people in your postcode could be vastly different to those one postcode over!
Different countries have different philosophies. Doctors in different countries might recommend different kinds of treatment or medications. For example, clinics in Europe seem to favour short IVF protocols. They might also have different beliefs about transferring multiple embryos, the UK is very committed to keeping the rate of multiple births down. There are also differences in guidance and cut-off levels, for example, many UK fertility clinics will not treat patients over a 35 BMI, unlike many American clinics. This means searching for information online can be confusing as fertility treatment is not standardised globally.
Fertility treatment in the UK is highly regulated. The HFEA regulates the IVF industry in the UK and inspects all clinics. The HFEA website is a great resource as it allows patients to compare clinics and has a traffic light system for evidence for additional treatments. Note, businesses that offer complementary fertility services are not regulated. Additionally, not all treatments are approved in the UK. Only treatments with sufficient evidence are approved for use, which means you can have good confidence in those that are approved, but some experimental treatments will not be available.
Different countries use different units. If you are researching online about fertility you will likely find lots of confusing numbers. If you want to learn about test results, it is important to know that there are different ways to measure the same thing, which means different units! For example, AMH is measured in nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) in the US and picomoles per litre (pmol/l) in the UK.
There are many avenues for support! Many clinics offer therapy as part of their treatment packages. The Fertility Network UK has a support line and many support groups for people dealing with fertility issues. There are also helplines for those experiencing pregnancy loss. The NHS also offers funded mental health support and therapy but there can be a long waitlist so if you think you would benefit, talk to your GP earlier rather than later.
Expect cultural differences. Clinic staff and other patients may have ideas about privacy and emotions which may be different from what you are used to. Some people find British doctors to be very brusque while others might find them overly emotional. The impact of gender roles and wider families varies widely by culture. Even your cultural tendency towards optimism could be different. Do not let this deter you from seeking treatment or support but be prepared for the differences.
UK has unique laws around donation. You are not allowed to pay for donated sperm or eggs and donors are only reimbursed for expenses. Children conceived through donation will be able to access information about the donor when they turn 18. Make sure to review the rules carefully if this is a route you are considering.
UK has a midwifery-based maternity service. If you need maternity services while in the UK, you may find the system very different! Most patients will be cared for by a midwife and only those with complications may see a doctor. Midwives can visit patients' homes to support them both before and after birth. Check out the NHS website for more information.
Pursuing fertility treatment can feel like a big step and it may be more daunting to explore in another country, but the UK has world-leading experts in reproductive health so you will be in good hands!
Jack Fertility will be offering an easy, at-home, UK-wide postal test - sign up to hear when it is available!