The UK's first fully-funded NHS IVF clinic is at risk of closure after it was revealed that the hospital cannot afford a much-needed £10 million refurbishment.
The internationally renowned department of reproductive medicine at St Mary's hospital, Manchester, first opened in 1982 and performs over 2000 fertility treatments every year. The centre is also home to a highly specialised fertility preservation service for cancer patients and is a world-class research centre.
Staff at St Mary's were briefed last month that the HFEA and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CGCs) – who fund fertility treatment – had said all licensed treatment and research on the site may end by April 2021 if the refurbishment could not be secured. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the clinic, said that closure is a possibility but no final decisions have been made.
It has been speculated that, if the clinic does close, treatment will be outsourced to the private sector – raising fears that publicly funded IVF will be rationed further in England. Staff at St Mary's also warn that the private sector will not be able to carry out some of the most specialised services currently offered by the NHS.
'We offer highly specialised procedures in the NHS which private providers won't touch because they don't make money and are too difficult. For example, we aim to see women diagnosed with cancer within a week who want to freeze their eggs before they start chemotherapy. Many of these women are already very poorly and need really high-quality anaesthetic care during egg collection, and that is just not available in the private sector because of the medical complications' a source told the Guardian.
Patients and staff have raised concerns about the logistics associated with stored gametes and embryos, with one staff member commenting: 'Moving thousands of sperm samples and embryos held in freezers, for use in both treatment and research, is a mind-boggling challenge.'
Patients have also raised concerns about not being able to access and afford treatment should the clinic shut. A former patient told the Guardian: 'Anyone who argues against the funding of fertility treatment has never felt the pain and destruction of infertility... IVF, for those who want to have children but can't, is life 'making' and the staff at St Mary's hold your dreams and future in their hands.'
Gwenda Burns, Chief Executive of the charity Fertility Network UK, said that patients have not received adequate information and called for urgent clarity on the Trust's decision whether to close or not.
'The news of the potential closure of the department of reproductive medicine at St Mary's is extremely worrying. Not only to patients who are due to begin treatment but for current patients who have either embryos, eggs or sperm stored at the unit.'