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UK-based guidelines to help fertility clinics plan for their reopening

11 May 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1046

UK guidelines have been published to help fertility clinics to prepare to open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Association of Clinical and Reproductive Scientists (ARCS) and the British Fertility Society (BFS) have published UK-based guidelines to help fertility clinics plan for their reopening.

Last week, the UK Government announced that fertility clinics can apply to reopen from 11 May, as reported in BioNews 1045.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) ordered all ongoing NHS and private fertility treatment in the UK to stop on 15 April (see BioNews 1043). Fertility clinics can now apply for approval from the HFEA in order to reopen and recommence patient treatment.

The ARCS and the BFS has published detailed guidelines in order to help fertility clinics write their written submission regarding how the clinic will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines are based on five key principles:

  • Resumption of fertility services must take place in a manner that minimises the chances of spread of COVID-19 infection to patients and fertility clinic staff.
  • Centres should ensure a fair and transparent approach to any prioritisation policy.
  • Resumption of treatment should not result in an undue burden on the NHS.
  • Patients considering treatment should be fully informed about the effect of the ongoing pandemic on their treatment and give informed consent to having fertility treatment at this time.
  • The fertility sector should adopt sustainable changes in working practices that help to build resilience against any future increases in the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

The HFEA plans to use a self-assessment tool based on this guidance to ensure that clinics are in a position to resume services both effectively and safely.

Professor Jason Kasraie, chair of ARCS said: 'The reopening of the sector will bring fresh hope to infertile couples around the UK and is welcome news for patients and staff. Patients should be assured that fertility professionals in the UK will be working hard to restart services over the coming weeks. It may take some time, because many clinics have seen their staff redeployed to help in the effort against COVID-19 and clinics will want to ensure adherence to local and national COVID-19 guidelines and preserve the resources of the NHS. Every professional I have spoken to in the field is delighted at the prospect of returning to the work of helping couples fulfil their dreams of parenthood.'

Dr Jane Stewart, chair of BFS said: 'I am delighted that Mr Hancock's statement highlighted the recognition of infertility as an important medical issue. I am equally delighted that both Mr Hancock and the HFEA have confirmed that patients should not be disadvantaged in terms of NHS commissioning for the delays incurred by the COVID-19 restrictions'.

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