Concern over women’s safety in fertility sector as patients risk health following delays

By Natalie Silverman, former patient, Founder of The Fertility Podcast and SAFE campaign ambassador

The pandemic has affected us all in different and sometimes unexpected ways. For those of us experiencing infertility, it has created greater barriers in what was an already challenging environment. With treatment on hold or disrupted for much of 2020, it’s no wonder that a lot of us feel that our chances of starting a family are lower than they were before.

But new research has suggested that these fears could be putting women’s health at risk. The study from the SAFE campaign found that half of women starting fertility treatment want a quicker pace of treatment and three in 10 are willing to push their physical and mental health to the limit. Even more concerning, 52 per cent are now open to overmedication, even though this can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) causing blood clots, kidney failure and even pregnancy loss.

Clinicians are often essential in helping to prevent aggressive treatment

The research found that one in three women (37%) who had been through fertility treatment were dissuaded from taking health risks by their doctor. Yet recent changes to how payment programmes are provided in the private fertility sector may jeopardise doctors’ ability to step in – and this is where things start to get worrying.

Over recent years the options for financing fertility treatment have grown to allow many to fulfil their dreams of starting a family. For instance, multi-cycle or refund programmes allow patients to access multiple rounds of IVF, or provide a refund in the event of no live birth.

Until recently, multi-cycle and refund packages have always been provided by independent third parties, allowing clinics to stay completely impartial and ensure that women’s health is prioritised. However, clinics have begun to offer these packages directly to patients, potentially blurring the lines between medical and financial decision-making.

This is because when clinics take on the financial risk, there could be pressure on clinicians to ensure that patients are not eligible for a refund. This could see clinics changing their safety margins in order to ensure that treatment is profitable.

And this risk is not just theoretical. Data from the US where this model is already widely available shows that as well as OHSS, there are also higher rates of stillbirths, premature births and low birth weight.

This development has concerned many across the fertility sector and led to the formation of the SAFE campaign, a coalition of healthcare professionals, patients and others involved in the fertility sector. We are calling for UK regulators to look closely at this new model, and assess the risks which are evidenced in scientific research.

As we emerge from the pandemic and with patients potentially more vulnerable than ever, it has never been more important to safeguard the separation between medical and financial decisions. There should continue to be strict checks and balances between the provision of fertility treatment and the way it is paid for.

If you are at all concerned about these changes, you can get involved with the SAFE campaign. As a founding supporter I can attest to the importance of the work we are doing to keep women and families safe.

Please do visit the website to find out how you can get involved


Related Article

OHSS explained by Dr Kiriakidis of Embryolab Fertility Clinic in Greece


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