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Getting reliable fertility advice free of commercial interest

18 March 2019
By Kate Brian
Kate Brian is Women's Voices Lead at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Appeared in BioNews 991

It has never been easier to find information about fertility, with a mass of material online about anything you might want to investigate. There are hundreds of thousands of words covering every condition, test and treatment. And yet it has never been harder to get clear answers to questions. Advice is often conflicting, and it can be hard for lay people to know which sources of information are reliable.

Fertility patients are keen to do anything they can to improve their chances of a positive outcome from treatment, but working out what would be a good use of your money can be challenging. Media stories about apparent breakthroughs that are set to double, or even triple, fertility treatment success rates do not help matters, and there have never been so many 'experts' who can help with everything from restoring your natural fertility to rebalancing your body and mind. A quick Google search turns up a fertility yoga teacher who boasts an 80 percent success rate, a complementary therapist claiming to be responsible for 300 'miracle babies' in just five years; and promotions for a fertility juice detox retreat for a special offer price of just over £1500. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) carried out a poll of over a thousand women released last week (see BioNews 991), and found that 76 percent of respondents were not sure whether information they were finding about fertility was impartial and unbiased. The majority (62 percent) were overwhelmed by the volume of advice on offer and 81 percent reported that it was not always clear when information was actually promoting particular clinics or treatments. 

We often see fertility patients resorting to asking one another for advice and if you look at any online fertility forum you will find people giving each other tips about additional tests they ought to have or doses of drugs they should be taking. Although it can be helpful to talk to other people who share similar experiences, it is worrying that patients are seeking so much medical advice from their peers. Perhaps even more troublesome are the people posting on forums as fertility patients, in fact promoting particular clinics overseas. The RCOG survey found that just over half of respondents (54 percent) thought online forums were unreliable, which means that many others are still trusting the advice they find.

This was something the RCOG's Women's Network, which represents lay women at the college, had been concerned about for some time. We decided that we would like to provide an alternative source of reliable information for anyone wanting to know more about their fertility and treatment options. We wanted to set up a non-commercial information day where no one would be promoting particular treatments or businesses, and one that is based entirely on giving information without any hype or sales pitches. 

Working with Professor Adam Balen in his capacity as a member of the RCOG's council, we put together a plan for a day and approached the other professional bodies working in the field to see whether they wanted to be involved. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), British Fertility Society, Association of British Andrologists, British Andrology Society, Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Infertility Counselling Association, Royal College of Nursing and the Senior Infertility Nurses Group were all keen to support the idea. A core group of women with personal experience of fertility issues worked alongside these organisations to put together a programme.

Now, a year after the idea was originally mooted, the event called 'Fertility Forum - Bringing professionals and public together', will take place at RCOG in London on March 30. Open to anyone with an interest in fertility, it provides an exciting programme with three parallel strands throughout the day to choose from. There will be no exhibition stands other than patient support charities and the professional bodies, and no promotions or sales pitches.

The day provides something for everyone, whether they are just starting out and wanting to know more about fertility or have already had some treatment and are considering their options. It covers a range of fertility issues and treatments along with sessions on the emotional impact, lifestyle and diet, funding and legal questions. Unusually for a fertility event, the Fertility Forum will also cover the sensitive subject of what happens if fertility treatment doesn't work. There will be a panel discussion on living without children with a group of women who have personal experience of this who will discuss finding peace and happiness after unsuccessful treatment.

The Fertility Forum takes place at the RCOG on 30 March. Tickets are available here

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