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A second open letter to fertility patients - Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair HFEA

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and fertility treatment

Since my first letter of 23 March to fertility patients the situation in relation to resuming treatment has been developing rapidly I wanted to update you on the latest information about UK fertility treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know that suspending fertility treatment from 15 April was extremely stressful for patients. I think it was the most difficult decision we have had to take at the HFEA in our 30-year history, realising what distress this would cause whilst doing our best to ensure that any treatment offered in clinics could be safe. Our priority was to keep patients and clinic staff safe, but we also had to consider guidance from the professional societies and government advice about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We asked clinics to keep in touch with patients during this time and offer you advice and support until treatment could safely restart. I know from personal experience what an emotional time undergoing fertility treatment can be, and we wanted to make sure clinics provided ongoing support to patients and that counselling was still available where needed.

Our aim has always been to restart treatment as soon as possible and we have been working tirelessly to allow as many patients as possible to resume safe treatment whilst adhering to the latest government guidance. We have now said that fertility clinics can apply to reopen from today, Monday 11 May.  

We will all, however, be working and living in different circumstances for some time to come due to the ongoing situation with the pandemic and the HFEA, as the regulator, will need to ensure all clinics who do reopen are able to put in place processes and procedures to keep patients and clinic staff safe. All clinics will have to provide the HFEA with a detailed assessment of how they will ensure safe services will operate and, once approved by us, they will be able to open again.

It’s important for you to understand that it is an individual clinic’s decision to apply for that approval to reopen and they should only do so when they are confident it is safe for them to restart treatment. Not all clinics will be able to start treatments immediately as they might not have all their staff and equipment in place and your own clinic will be able to advise you on their current situation.

We know that clinics may not be able to treat as many patients as they were seeing before the pandemic because of the new guidance and social distancing, but we expect them to offer staggered appointments, use appropriate PPE and make more use of video and phone consultations, for example, as they begin to see patients again.

We know there will be some patients who are concerned about waiting lists and if their treatment will pick up where it left off. A commitment to do this has been made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, whilst we have no direct powers over funding decisions, we hope Clinical Commissioning Groups (who make the decisions about patient funding in England)  do the same.

We will be closely monitoring the situation as clinics apply to reopen and will regularly update our website with a list of the clinics that are open. It’s vital that you all receive the information you need, so please stay in touch with your clinic and contact them with any questions. We will update the HFEA website regularly with new information as it arises.

Please do stay safe and I wish you well.

Sally cheshire signature

Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair HFEA

Review date: 30 November 2022