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Coronavirus (COVID-19) - previous updates for patients

This page provides a record of the previous guidance we have issued to patients relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please note that all current current guidance can be found on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for patients page

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 2 November 2020: statement on fertility treatment services

On Saturday 31 October the Prime Minister announced a second lockdown in England beginning, subject to Parliamentary approval, on Thursday 5 November. This follows earlier decisions by the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to introduce a variety of similar measures. 

Fertility patients are understandably anxious at this time and in the light of these developments we are issuing a further statement to set out our position on fertility treatment across the UK and the expectations we have of clinics.

At this current time we have no plans to implement a national closure of fertility clinics. HFEA licensed clinics have incorporated safe ways of working for patients and clinic staff during the ongoing pandemic as set out in their Treatment Commencement Strategy in May 2020. 

At this time, none of the governments across the UK are suggesting that patients should postpone treatment – for example the updated guidance coming into force on Thursday in England includes permission to be outside your home “for any medical concerns, reasons, appointments and emergencies.”

However, with Covid19 cases increasing and hospital admission and death rates predicted to be significantly higher than in the first wave, we expect clinics to promptly review their policies and procedures to ensure renewed detailed action plans are integrated into clinical care immediately.

We expect all clinics to demonstrate how their service can be safely maintained and how they can minimise any possible further impact on the wider NHS, for example by doing all they can to minimise referrals to emergency care. Clinics should consider implementing a freeze all strategy for patients at higher risk of referral and assess patients to identify those at greater risk of requiring NHS care.

We will closely monitor the situation and request that any referrals made by licensed clinics to an NHS facility other than their own clinic be reported through the HFEA incident reporting system. We expect clinics to continue to follow professional and local guidance and let us know immediately if there is a local decision to suspend the services they provide.

Looking ahead, the HFEA will continue to review any new guidance produced by the Government and devolved administrations, the NHS and Professional Societies and make further statements as necessary.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 13 October 2020: HFEA statement on fertility treatment services

In light of the worrying increase in Covid-19 cases and changes to local lockdown, the HFEA wants to provide some reassurance about fertility treatment.

The changes that clinics put in place from May 2020 onwards, to comply with professional guidelines and keep patients safe, mean that we hope a new national closure of fertility clinics should not be necessary.

All HFEA licensed clinics had to set out a Treatment Commencement Strategy in May 2020 showing how they could provide a safe service for their staff and patients during the pandemic.  These strategies are kept under regular review by clinics and our inspectors, and all clinics should follow the latest guidance from the UK professional bodies - the British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists.

As the pandemic continues, we recognise that individual clinics may face circumstances where they will have to consider whether they can continue to maintain a safe service for a period of time – for example if they have a high level of staff sickness or their local hospital trust decides to restrict some patient services.

We expect clinics to follow professional and local guidance and to review and adapt their treatment strategy to ensure fertility treatment can continue to be provided safely.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 28 April 2020: Restarting treatment, clinic closures, and storage limit extended

Restarting treatment

We understand what a difficult and emotional time this is for fertility patients with fertility treatment ceasing from 15 April 2020 in line with other NHS and private healthcare.

Our aim is to allow as many patients as possible to resume safe treatment as soon as possible. Our Board met yesterday to continue to discuss how we can make this happen and what criteria need to be satisfied before clinics can re-open.

Any decision to allow fertility clinics to re-open will consider the views of the UK professional fertility societies (BFS/ARCS) and the impact that resuming treatment would have on NHS services. We also need to be assured that clinics are able to provide a safe service to patients and a safe working environment for clinic staff.

We recognise the distress this closure is causing any patients awaiting fertility treatment and hope that those relying on NHS funding will be allowed to continue their treatment as they expected.

We want to reassure patients and clinics that we are actively working on an exit strategy to enable fertility treatment to resume when Government restrictions on social contact and travel are lifted. 

Storage limit for frozen eggs, sperm and embryos extended during coronavirus outbreak

In recognition of the potential impact that the COVID-19 pandemic may have on those wishing to start a family, the Government has today confirmed that the current 10-year storage limit for embryos and gametes will be extended by two years.

Our Chair, Sally Cheshire, said:

“We welcome today’s announcement from the DHSC. We have been working together to ensure those patients who have stored sperm, eggs or embryos that are reaching the 10-year storage limit are not penalised by the current suspension of fertility treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know this is a difficult and distressing time for all patients, so this decision brings good news for those who are reaching the 10-year storage limit. It provides them with some much-needed reassurance and most importantly gives more time to try for their much longed for family.”

We will be issuing new guidance to fertility clinics in the UK to support them in implementing the new storage limit extension.

Clinic closures

Due to Covid-19, we issued a General Direction which requires all clinics to have a COVID-19 treatment strategy in place and to have stopped all treatments by 15 April 2020. This Direction was implemented in line with the professional guidelines from the BFS and ARCS, as well as advice from the NHS that all non-urgent, elective surgery should stop by 15 April 2020 at the latest.

General Directions are issued when we need to change clinic practice in line with new policy or guidance. General Directions are mandatory, meaning that all clinics must follow them. If a clinic fails to do so, it would be a breach of a statutory licence condition, which may have serious implications on their license, including suspending or revoking a clinic’s license.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 09 April 2020: Restarting treatment

We understand this is a difficult time for patients and clinics with all fertility treatment being stopped from 15 April 2020. 

We will do all we can to lift this restriction as soon as possible but we cannot give a date when this will happen given the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

We are working on a strategy for addressing this and as a first step will be considering the criteria that will need to be satisfied before the direction can be lifted. Any decision will need to consider the views of the UK professional societies (BFS/ARCS), the impact that resuming treatment would have on NHS services, and general guidance from Government designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 on safe distancing and the movement of people.

Our aim is for the UK fertility sector to restart as soon as possible and we are keeping the situation under regular review.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 01 April 2020: Clinic closures

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have contacted clinics asking them to not start any new treatments and to complete any ongoing treatments by 15 April 2020.

We are regularly monitoring the situation, the government guidance and the advice from the fertility sector medical and scientific experts.

We understand this is a difficult time for patients and clinics. We will do all we can to allow clinics to reopen when it is appropriate to do so, when it is safe for patients and clinic staff and doesn’t put any additional strain on the NHS.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 27 March 2020: Patient enquiries and COVID-19

We understand that patients may have questions following the recent guidance we’ve sent out to clinics about fertility treatment during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The clinical guidance from the British Fertility Society (BFS) and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists (ARCS) says that:

  • All centres will stop initiating new fertility treatments, including In-Vitro Fertilization, frozen embryo transfer, surgical sperm retrieval, insemination and ovulation induction.
  • It is reasonable for clinics to complete treatment that has already commenced in patients who remain well and where the centre’s resources allow this to be done safely. 

However, all treatment should be completed by 15 April 2020 latest, in line with the direction we sent to clinics on 23 March 2020

If you have already started your treatment and you have questions about continuing, please contact your clinic. It is the responsibility of the clinic to decide whether it is clinically appropriate for a treatment cycle to continue. As the regulator, we’re unable to provide advice on individual medical situations. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 24 March 2020: Information for fertility patients attending clinic appointments

Following last night’s announcement from the Government about staying at home and away from others we want to provide some clarity about what this means for those fertility patients who are currently finishing treatment cycles.

The guidance issued by the Government on 23 March states “you should only leave home for one of four reasons”. This includes any medical need or travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

This means that patients can still travel to their clinic to finish a treatment cycle, and clinic staff can travel to the clinic to provide that treatment as this cannot be done from home.

As you are aware even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household. You should also avoid using public transport wherever possible.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 17 March 2020: Guidance for patients

We understand that some patients are concerned about the current situation with COVID-19 and whether this should be a reason to stop IVF treatment.

We cannot provide patients or clinics with medical guidance or make medical decisions. However, our current advice to clinics is to refer to UK professional guidance for advice when making decisions about whether to offer treatment. Patients should discuss their individual circumstances with their clinic before considering starting treatment. British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists issued joint guidance on 16 March and we are in regular communication with them. We have also shared guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to all clinics.

However, we are aware that there are different opinions among professional bodies globally and your clinic should be aware of this, but we reiterate our advice for clinics to follow UK professional guidance only and depending on the individual clinics circumstances they can continue to treating patients at the current time.

We are also aware that some clinics have had to stop treatments for other reasons such as low staffing levels due to staff being redeployed to other areas and emergency planning measures in their hospital. These decisions are taken locally by the individual clinic and are not something that the HFEA is involved in. We have not issued guidance which says all clinics should cease providing treatment at this time.

We are closely monitoring the situation and will share any new information that we receive via our website and social media channels.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update 05 March 2020: Donation

Patients or donors who have travelled to a country that is deemed to have a high risk of Coronavirus should speak to their clinic about how this may impact on their treatment or donation. 

Guidance issued by the Joint UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC) states:  

Must not donate if:

  1. a) Less than 28 days from a donor’s return from a Coronavirus risk area. This includes transit through an airport in a Coronavirus risk area, even if the traveller has not left the airport.
  2. b) Less than 28 days from the last contact with a person with Coronavirus infection.
  3. c) Less than 28 days since recovery from Coronavirus infection or possible Coronavirus infection.

The Department of Health and Social Care have issued guidance and advice on Coronavirus and an action plan, which may also be helpful for donors and patients to refer to. The NHS has also issued guidance.

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Review date: 26 November 2022